30 January 2011

"And When they Saw Him they Begged Him to. . ." (Adapted)

I have to say that tomorrow's Gospel always suprises and delights me. It is first the story of Jesus' sending the demons which possess a man into a nearby herd of swine thus freeing the man from the bondage to brokennness and inhumanity which marks and mars his life; secondly, it is the story of what happens when he approaches the nearby town (Gadara) whose residents have heard of what he has done. Despite knowing how the story goes, I admit to being surprised every time I hear that Jesus is being begged to leave the district and its residents without troubling them further.

Now granted, Jesus just destroyed an entire herd of swine, and they must have been someone's livelihood --- perhaps many people's (and presuming Jesus was approaching Jews, it is a livelihood which contravened the Law as well). Some unhappiness with this would have been understandable. More, Jesus has healed a man whose condition had made travel along a certain route unsafe, so one would expect a mixed response to that -- this man will now need to be genuinely accommodated in some real sense --- not simply treated as a wild animal or alien of some sort who can be chained or otherwise held apart from the community. So, even though there was the recovery of the region and freedom from the man's violence, I begin to have a sense why Jesus was not welcomed here. But I admit to still hearing in the back of my mind cheers of welcome, voices beseeching Jesus to come and change lives, a positive and welcoming response like that in fiction stories where the conquering hero comes back from slaying the dragon, or like the narrative in the New Testament where Jesus is welcomed as King with waving palm branches and cries of Hosanna --- temporary as that moment was! In a way, perhaps in the "back of my mind" I want a costless or "cheap" grace, a "good news" fit for escapist fiction or an incredibly naive reading of the NT --- but not for the real world or for a Gospel whose heart is the cross. Am I really much different than most of us in this?

But of course the Gospel is good news in a much more realistic, paradoxical, and problematical way and tomorrow's pericope from Mark highlights this for us. Jesus reveals himself to be a man of extraordinary, even divine authority --- a man with authority over nature, illness, the hearts of men and women, and now over demons. He makes whole and holy, feeds the hungry on a profound and lasting level, frees from every kind of dehumanizing bondage, and provides true meaning and dignity for those lost and bereft. He is the Son of the Most High God (a title Mark has on the lips of the demons in tomorrow's story)--- very good news indeed --- but he acts with an authority which is genuinely awesome and which turns the everyday world of politics, religion, simple ordinariness, and comfortable respectability on their heads. The Garasenes in tomorrow's Gospel see this clearly and they are unprepared for it. Far from misunderstanding Jesus and refusing to welcome him on those grounds they understand precisely who Jesus is and want no part of him --- just as the Scribes and Pharisees understand him all-too-well and reject him. Far better to simply ask Jesus to leave the district than to have to come to terms with who he is and what that truly challenges and calls forth in and from them! How familiar this pattern is for us!

One of the current complaints by some traditionalists is that Vatican II gave us a God of love (they frequently spell the word "luv" to denote their disparagement of it) and lost the God who inspires fear, etc. They may well be correct that there has been some "domestication" of God and his Christ in popular piety --- but then this is not because of Vatican II; it is a continual temptation and sin besetting the Church. Afterall, how many of us when faced with the daily prospect of renewed faith recognize that acceptance of Jesus' authority -- expressed as an unconditional love which is stronger than death -- will turn our world upside down and call us to a radical way of living and loving which involves renunciation, self-sacrifice, and commitment to a Kingdom that is NOT of this world and often is at distinct odds with it? The equivalent of a herd of swine or the accommodation of the mentally ill is the least it will cost us --- precisely because it is unconditional. How many of us choose not so much to be loved -- with all that implies for growth, maturity and responsibility -- but instead (at least with some part of ourselves) would prefer to be coddled and cajoled? The same is true with regard to choosing to love. How many of us choose not so much to love as Christ, but limit our giving to relatively painless charities which both keep the needy at arm's length and salves our consciences in one relatively undemanding motion? In other words, how many of us buy into (and construct our lives around) a religion which is at least as much OF this world as it is IN it?

So yes, tomorrow's Gospel both surprises and delights me. It does both because of its honesty and because it is genuinely good news, rooted in the awesome authority of the Christ who loves without condition but not without challenge, empowerment, and commission. Such a Christ will never be really popular, I think. Many of our churches and cities are far more like Gadara than not --- though perhaps not as openly. The authority of Jesus over illness, fear, meaninglessness, and the demons that beset each and all of us as well as our society and world is an awesome and demanding reality; unfortunately, our hearts are more often ambivalent, ambiguous, and resistant than pure, single, and open in its regard. I suspect that domestication of our faith is something most of us are guilty of every day of our lives. With that and Mark's Gospel in mind, let us summon up the courage to beg Jesus to enter into our towns, homes, churches, and hearts, and remain with us; let us give him free access to move within and change our world as he wills! That is my own prayer in light of this Gospel passage.

17 January 2011

St Anthony, Abbot

Lots of hermits in the calendar these days (well, relatively so!). Today we would ordinarily celebrate the Feast of St Anthony of Egypt (251-356 -- no, no typos in that date), one of the best known hermit Saints -- although we mainly remembered Martin Luther King this year. It is also the feastday of the Motherhouse of the women's congregation of Benedictine Camaldolese located in Rome --- the house where, some may recall, Nazarena, an American recluse and anchoress lived out her life. It follows just two days after the feast of St Paul the Hermit, recognized as the first hermit in the Catholic Church.

There is a good story about Anthony which relates to some of the readings which come up this week, most notably Friday's reading from the Letter to the Hebrews (8:6-13). This text reminds us of the new covenant and the shift from an approach to morality that is rooted in observance of the law as a sign of observing the covenant to one where the person embodies the covenant in their very selves with the covenant written on their minds and hearts. Hebrews notes that when the new covenant is established in this way, we will no longer need to teach one another saying, "Know the Lord," because all will know God in the depths of their hearts --- and, implicitly, be able to recognize him in the lives of each of us.

Once upon a time Anthony was visited by some Greek philosophers or wise men. They had heard stories about Anthony and the way he comforted people with his words. They were anticipating some kind of wisdom they could be convinced of and take away with them --- a new possession of sorts. The "container" for these comforting bits of wisdom, they also thought, were words and ideas, arguments they could add to an already notable armament of arguments and human wisdom. It seems that these men wanted to cull from Anthony's life what they considered admirable. The rest, however, the hermit or monastic life, the asceticism, the "foolishness" of following Christ exhaustively in material as well as spiritual poverty and obedience they rejected as the foolishness they considered it to be --- the foolishness Paul himself speaks of when he measures the scandal of a Crucified Christ against the wisdom of the "Greeks".

Anthony asked these men why they came to him, someone dressed in animal skins, and living a subsistence life of faith in the desert as a disciple of the crucified Christ. They reassured him that they thought he was a wise man. Anthony realized what these men wanted from him and refused to play their game. His challenge was clear and cut to the heart of the matter: If you truly believe I am a wise man, then live as I live. Become what I have become in Christ, for I am a Christian. This is open to you, but it is not the way of human wisdom, not even the way of external observance to Divine law. The philosophers left, no new lessons to teach others, no wisdom to add to their armament of human wisdom, no new arguments or consoling words they can pull out of their collection of platitudes and aphorisms. Despite superficial differences, the choice Anthony gave them was the same one Christ gave the rich young man, and the same one Hebrews 8:6-13 presents us with, namely, to leave the old way of living behind, the way of external legal observance, possessions, human wisdom and achievement and become a new creation in Christ from the heart outward. Not all of us are called to be hermits, but we are all called to emulate Anthony in this matter.

Those interested in knowing more about Anthony of Egypt should check out his rather "stylized" (it is typically hagiographical) biography by Saint Athanasius, The Life of Anthony. It is available in a number of editions and online as well. A book which is not about Anthony only, but which is fascinating in light of his (and others') well-known battles with demons, and which might interest some readers, is David Brakke's, Demons and the Making of the Monk, Spiritual Combat in Early Christianity. Chapter 2, however focuses on St Anthony (via St Athanasius', Life of Anthony) and references to him occur throughout.

Meanwhile, all good wishes to Camaldolese men and women everywhere, nuns, hermits, oblates! Prayers especially for the community at St Anthony's of Egypt in Rome.

08 January 2011

Writing a Rule of Life, More Questions

Dear Sister, what does a diocese expect in an eremitical Rule of Life? How brief can it be, and how individual?

This is a great set of questions. When one reads about Rules of Life in Raven's Bread, a newsletter for hermits, or in the Fredette's associated book on contemporary eremitical life, for instance, one gets the impression that a Rule of Life can be as brief as several paragraphs (or even less), or relatively lengthy. When one looks at historical examples, for instance St Francis' Rule for hermits or the VERY brief "Brief Rule" of St Romuald, one gets the same idea regarding brevity. However, canonists and dioceses do have certain legitimate expectations of a diocesan hermit's Rule of life --- certain things it should cover in order to truly 1) reflect the nature and quality of the vocation in front of the diocese, and 2) govern and inspire an authentic eremitical life. It should be remembered that diocesan hermits' Rules or Plans of Life are approved with a "Bishop's Declaration of Approval" and become legally (canonically) binding on the hermit on the day of profession. They become quasi public documents which are representative of the solitary eremitical life as the Church understands and validates it. Thus, they should not only cover the essentials of the life, but serve to inspire and guide the hermit in living it with integrity as well as creativity and legitimate flexibility. They may also do the same for others who may draw on them for insight.

There is a challenge then in making the Rule sufficiently general and also personal enough to accommodate the various ways the Holy Spirit calls us to live our lives. Still, the first thing the candidate for profession must remember is that this is a Rule for eremitical life lived under Canon 603, and it must therefore address all the requirements of the Canon. These specify a publicly vowed life of stricter separation from the world, the silence of solitude, assiduous prayer and penance, lived according to a Rule approved by and under the supervision of one's Bishop all for the salvation of the world and the glory and praise of God. Consider how many elements are involved here, and how profound and integral the vision of life it describes. Consider the elements which are not specifically mentioned --- not least the charism of the diocesan hermit and how this eremitical life is a gift to Church and world! A hermit's Rule must address all these elements and more.

So, what specifically should the solitary hermit's Rule cover? (Please note these are not listed in any particular order.) 1) the elements of the Canon itself (including definitions of significant terms) and how these are lived out in this person's life (prayer, silence of solitude, penance, stricter separation from the world, Scripture, lectio, etc), 2) a brief history and theology of eremitical life, its place in the church and its importance for the world, especially at this point in the Church and World's history (the purpose here is not to demonstrate that one is an historian but rather to allow one to demonstrate she has a clear sense that she is assuming a responsible place in this living history), 3) a theology of the vows, the proposed vow formula itself, and how the vows are lived out specifically and generally, 4) provisions for study, ongoing formation, spiritual direction, retreat and desert days, 5) affiliation with monasteries, predominant spirituality, etc (as applicable), 6) the place and nature of hospitality, 7) work, how much, what type, where it will occur, etc, 8) provisions for future needs (income, burial, insurance, etc).

Besides prayer, one also needs to cover 9) any ministry undertaken and whether in or out of the hermitage, 10) relationship with parish and diocese including not only participation in the parish and the forms that will take, but some consideration of one's relationship with one's Bishop, the place (and person) of a diocesan delegate in the scheme of things, frequency and nature of contact with these, etc, and 11) a horarium which, at least generally, specifies the shape of one's day: rising, meals, prayer, lectio, work, ministry, recreation and errands, hours of rest and sleep. (If one has significant personal exigencies which bear on these (chronic illness, for instance) it is usually a good idea to state these up front and note that these occasionally demand some flexibility with regard to horarium, etc, rather than trying to minimize the demands of the life throughout the Rule. One's descriptions should be about what is generally possible and prudent for one --- not an idealization of what another hermit MIGHT live if they were able.)

I have written here before about writing one's own Rule of Life and how to begin that. It makes clear that one writes a rule based on one's own experience living the life. Therefore, even though the above elements seem numerous and perhaps overwhelming when set out this way, there is plenty of room for individuality and flexibility. No two hermits will write about poverty or obedience or chastity in precisely the same way, for instance, but the ways they live this out will still involve similarities. No two hermits will approach penance in the same way, or hospitality, or stricter separation from the world, but their Rules will reflect on these realities and describe how one honors them on a day to day basis.

So long as one includes the essential elements of the canon, remembers what kind of document one is writing, and takes care of the normal needs of a truly eremitical life, one can make the Rule as brief and individual as one needs. One is expressing one's life in this, especially the values and place of Christ in structuring and empowering that. In part a Rule is an expression of one's faith then, but it also outlines the form and essential elements which make that life a true expression of that faith lived out as a solitary diocesan hermit --- not merely as an individual doing as they like throughout the day. In other words, to some extent the Rule serves to reflect, govern, nurture, and protect the solitary eremitical vocation itself, not merely the individual's OWN vocation to this life. Stated another way we can say that the Rule makes sure the individual vocation grows as an expression of the vocation to solitary eremitical life itself. This helps explain the tension between institutional expectations and the individuality which also is reflected in such a document. Should, for instance, a person find there is actual conflict between these two dimensions they may well therefore thus be discerning they are not called to canonical profession under canon 603.

Feast of the Baptism of Jesus (Reprise with tweaks)

Of all the feasts we celebrate, the baptism of Jesus is the most difficult for us to understand. We are used to thinking of Baptism as a solution to original sin instead of the means of our initiation into the death and resurrection of Jesus, or our adoption as daughters and sons of God and heirs to his Kingdom, or again, as a consecration to God's very life and service. When viewed this way, and especially when we recall that John's baptism was one of repentance for sin, how do we make sense of a sinless Jesus submitting to it?

I think two points need to be made here. First, Jesus grew into his vocation. His Sonship was real and completely unique but not completely developed or historically embodied from the moment of his conception; rather it was something he embraced more and more fully over his lifetime. Secondly, his Sonship was the expression of solidarity with us and his fulfillment of the will of his Father to be God-with-us. Jesus will incarnate the Logos of God definitively in space and time, but this event we call the incarnation encompasses and is only realized fully in his life, death, and resurrection -- not in his nativity. Only in allowing himself to be completely transparent to this Word, only in "dying to self," and definitively setting aside all other possible destinies does Jesus come to fully embody and express the Logos of God in a way which expresses his solidarity with us as well.

It is probably the image of Baptism-as-consecration then which is most helpful to us in understanding Jesus' submission to John's baptism. Here the man Jesus is set apart as the one in whom God will truly "hallow his name". Here, in an act of manifest commitment, Jesus' humanity is placed completely at the service of the living God and of those to whom God is committed. Here his experience as one set apart for God establishes him as completely united with us and our human condition. This solidarity is reflected in his statement to John that together they must fulfill the will of God. And here too Jesus anticipates the death and resurrection he will suffer for the sake of both human and Divine destinies which, in him, will be reconciled and inextricably wed to one another. His baptism establishes the pattern not only of HIS humanity, but that of all authentic humanity. So too does it reveal the nature of true divinity, for our's is a God who becomes completely subject to our sinful reality in order to free us for his own entirely holy one.

I suspect that even at the end of the Christmas season we are still scandalized by the incarnation. We still stumble over the intelligibility of this baptism, and the propriety of it especially. Our inability to fathom Jesus' baptism, and our tendency to be shocked by it, just as JohnBp was probably shocked, says we are not comfortable, even now, with a God who enters exhaustively into our reality. We remain uncomfortable with a Jesus who is tempted like us in ALL THINGS, and matures into his identity as God's only begotten Son. We are puzzled by one who is holy as God is holy and, as the creed affirms, "true God from true God" and who, evenso, is consecrated to and by the one he calls Abba and to the service of his Kingdom and people. A God who comes to us in smallness, weakness, submission, and self-emptying is really not a God we are comfortable with --- despite three weeks of Christmas celebrations and reflections, and a prior four weeks of preparation -- is it? In fact, none of this was comfortable for early Christians either. They were embarrassed by Jesus' baptism by John --- as Matt's added explanation of the reasons for it in vv 14-15 indicate. They were concerned that perhaps it indicated Jesus inferiority to John the Baptist and they wondered if perhaps it meant that Jesus had sinned prior to his baptism. And perhaps this is as it should be. Perhaps the scandal attached signals to us we are getting this right theologically.

After all, today's feast tells us that Jesus' public ministry begins with a consecration and commissioning by God which is somewhat similar to our own baptismal consecration. His public life begins with an event that prefigures his end as well. There is a real dying to self involved here, not because Jesus has a false self which must die -- as each of us has --- but because his life is placed completely at the disposal of his God, his Abba, in solidarity with us. Loving another, affirming the being of another in a way which subordinates one's own being to theirs --- putting one's own life at their disposal and surrendering all other life-possibilities always entails a death of sorts -- and a kind of rising to new life as well. The dynamics present on the cross are present here too -- complete and obedient (that is open and responsive) submission to the will of God, and an unfathomable subjection to that which sin makes necessary so that God's love may conquer precisely here as well.

07 January 2011

Singing our Magnificats, Looking back and ahead

With our celebration of Jesus' baptism the celebration of the Christmas season draws to an end. In a short two weeks we moved from the nativity of Jesus, through readings which marked his growth in stature and grace, and we now approach the feast of his commissioning by God and Jesus' own acceptance of all it means to be Son. But from the beginning of Advent throughout the Christmas season we heard stories of individuals brought from barrenness, silence, and muteness to fruitfulness and the bold speech the Scriptures calls parrhesia. There was Hanna, a barren Jewish woman, whose faith eventually allowed God to act in her so that she might have a son. She gave birth to Samuel and sang her gratitude for the fruition of God's Word in the "Canticle of Anna". There was Elizabeth, a voiceless woman in Judaism who gave birth to John the Baptist, and who stood up against the religious establishment of her day proclaiming, "No! His name will be John!" and Zecharia who doubted God could bring new life out of barrenness and was made mute, but who eventually affirmed with his wife, "No, his name will be John" and regained a powerful voice in bending to God's will. As a result we have the Canticle of Zechariah, another eloquent symbol of the speech or word event a human being can become.

John the Baptist leaps in response to the Word of God and becomes more than just a Prophet, but also the actual forerunner of God's Christ. His own austere song is the call to repentence and purification! There was, of course, Mary whose own virginity and fiat issued --- through the grace of God --- in the birth of Jesus and the magnificat which, like Hanna's canticle, is emblematic of true obedience and the reversals God effects in our lives and world when God's Word and Spirit are allowed to have their way. There was Simeon who saw Jesus in the Temple and sang his praise as he spoke of his own willingness to die now that the goal of his life had been accomplished.

God's own story was rehearsed twice for us during this season in the prologue to John's Gospel, first on Christmas day, and again last Friday. It is the story of a move from the "aloneness" of the Communion we call God through the Word's sounding in the silence and emptiness of chaos to the resultant coming to be of a creation on its way to being the articulate expression of God's glory. It is a story, and in fact a song, which comes to a particular climax in the nativity and life of Christ as the Word is enfleshed to dwell amongst us. In every case, and in the stories of so many more individuals in the Scriptures --- prophets, judges, etc --- we have God bringing, summoning, to fruition and articulation his own Word --- always out of silence, chaos, barrenness, etc. And now, we approach the feast of the Baptism which marks Jesus' own adult acceptance of divine Sonship, his own commissioning to move out of the silence and privacy of familial obscurity into the public ministry which is his to claim. He will be THE Word of Power for the world and we will be told, "This is my beloved Son. Listen (hearken) to him!"

Theologians use the term "the Christ Event" to refer to Jesus' life, death, resurrection, and ascension. But, because of what happens to the world in these events, the term refers to more than this single life. It refers as well to those who come to participate in Jesus' life and share it, to those who accept their own calls to articulate the Word of God in Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, to those who literally become part of the body of Christ and share in the dynamic spoken of in Ephesians, "Christ brought to full stature." Each of us have a place in continuing and extending the range and scope of the Christ Event. Each of us can allow or prevent the Word from coming to greater or fuller articulation in our world. Each of us may come to be an exhaustive articulation of the Glory of God, or not.

We are at the beginning of the Church year still, but this weekend's feast challenges us to accept the commissioning which accompanies Jesus' own. With Hanna, Elizabeth, Zechariah, John the Baptist, Mary, Simeon, et al, we are to become expressions of the Word of God within us and reveal the glory of God with our lives. The reversals spoken of by Hanna and Mary, the reversals proclaimed and embodied by Christ are to become the melody of our lives as each one becomes a canticle, psalm, or magnificat of God's power, and no other. My prayer is that each of us will find and assume our place and our voice in the Christ Event and sing those magnificats until every person has joined in the song, indeed until the whole of creation is one full-throated hymn of revelation and praise to God.

04 January 2011

Christmas News from Transfiguration Monastery

Transfiguration Monastery, the only Camaldolese Monastery of nuns in the United States, has seen another year of changes. They are exciting and mainly positive. (One is a bit sad, I think.)

In the community's Christmas letter, Sister Donald writes, [[ We hope that by Christmas a permanent chaplain will join us: Fr Robert Dwyer, a retired priest of this diocese and a long time friend of the monastery. We have spent the past several months working on the construction of a hermitage for Fr Dwyer. We've also had visits this fall from a number of women who have an interest in living monastic life --- and we will have two more with us at Christmas time.

Sister Jeanne Marie is now residing at Susquehanna nursing home and is still very much a part of our community, supporting us above all in her prayer. She was with us on the Feast of All Saints and for Thanksgiving. [Contact information is available for those wishing to contact her.]

On December 8th, Mary Fedorchak received the habit and became "Sister Mary Catherine". Mary chose the name Catherine because of the influence in her life of Catherine de Hueck Doherty, the founder of Madonna House in Canada. We are delighted and rejoice in the many talents and good spirit she brings to the community. . . .

Sister Sheila remains our principal cook and bread baker. She is also our liturgist, excellent chant teacher and musician, seamstress, and is teaching us a course on the Book of Ruth. Sister Donald gave retreats, workshops, and talks in Dallas, Kalamazoo, at St John's Abbey, in California, and at the monastery here in Windsor. She is also teaching two courses for the deacon candidates in our diocese: Christology and spirituality.

At the end of September, Sister Barbara, novice mistress of our Motherhouse in Rome, came for a long-awaited canonical visit. Sister Barbara is young, enthusiastic, and was very supportive of our efforts here. She was eager to improve her English and we now have more incentive to work on Italian

I do ask for your prayers for Transfiguration, and urge you to consider supporting these Sisters in whatever way you can. Also, please consider making a retreat there or attending a workshop (or one of the retreats Sister Donald gives in CA or Dallas for those interested in a Benedictine experience). The Camaldolese Benedictine charism is centuries old (almost 10 centuries in fact) and one of the few places eremitical life, cenobitical life, and evangelization are blended in the way that happens at Transfiguration. Those interested in living an expression of Camaldolese spirituality outside a monastery might also want to consider becoming Camaldolese Oblates, whether with Transfiguration or with New Camaldoli (monks) in Big Sur, or Incarnation Monastery (monks, house of studies) in Berkeley. Oblates make their stability with one of these houses, but are always welcome at any of them.

Update 2013: Transfiguration Monastery has ceased to be a Camaldolese Monastery and is formally becoming an American Benedictine house/congregation. Those who are interested in becoming Camaldolese Oblates should probably contact New Camaldoli or Incarnation Monastery. Those of us who are already Camaldolese Oblates with our affiliation with Transfiguration have the option of maintaining our oblature here or transferring it to one of these other houses. The Camaldolese charism will remain a significant part of Transfiguration's inspiration, heritage, and ministry.

02 January 2011

Feast of the Epiphany

There is something stunning about the story of the Epiphany and we often don't see or hear it, I think, because the story is so familiar to us. It is the challenge which faces us precisely because our God is one who comes to us in littleness, weakness, and obscurity, and meets us in the unexpected and even unacceptable place. It is truly stunning I think to find three magi (whoever these were and whatever they represented in terms of human power, wealth, and wisdom) recognizing in a newborn baby, not only the presence of a life with cosmic significance but, in fact, the incarnation of God and savior of the world. I have rarely been particularly struck by this image of the Magi meeting the child Jesus and presenting him with gifts, but this year I see it clearly as a snapshot of the entire Gospel story with all its hope, wonder, poignancy, challenge, and demand.

If the identities of the Magi are unclear, the dynamics of the picture are not. Here we have learned men who represent all of the known world and the power, wealth, and knowledge therein who spend their lives in search of (or at least watching for the coming of) something which transcends their own realms and its wisdom and knowledge, coming to kneel and lay symbols of their wealth before a helpless, Jewish baby of common and even questionable birth. They ostensibly identify this child, lying in a feeding trough, as the King of the Jews. Yes, they followed a star to find him, but evenso, their recognition of the nature and identity of this baby is surprising. Especially so is the fact that they come to worship him. The stunning nature of this epiphany is underscored by the story of the massacre of the male babies in Bethlehem by the Jewish ruler, Herod. Despite his being heralded as the messiah, and so too, the Jewish King, there is nothing apparently remarkable about the baby from Herod's perspective, nothing, that is, which allows him to be distinguished from any other male baby of similar age, and so Herod has all such babies indiscriminately killed.

One child, two antithetical attitudes and responses: the first, an openness which leads to recognition and the humbling subordination of worship; the second, an attitude of closedness, self-protectiveness, and fear, which leads not only to a failure of recognition but to arrogant and murderous oppression. And in between these two attitudes and responses, we must also see the far more common ones marking lives which miss this event altogether. In every case, the Christ Event marks the coming of the sovereign, creator, God among us, but in the littleness, weakness, and obscurity of ordinary human being. In this way God meets us each in the unexpected and even unacceptable place (the manger, the cross, human being, self-emptying, weakness, companionship with serious sinners, etc) --- if we only have the eyes of faith which allow us to recognize and worship him!

My thanks to those who have patiently read my blog during my absence over the past couple of weeks. This post is unfinished, and I will complete it later tonight probably, but I wanted to put it up even so. Meanwhile, my best wishes for the rest of this Christmas season! May it be a holy and fruitful time for each of you and your families.