21 December 2009

pageant thoughts

Sunday was for us, and I am sure many Episcopalians, the day of the "Christmas Pageant." Others will be seen on Christmas Eve or on Epiphany.

Our parish's children presented a dramatic telling of what I refer to as the "conformed birth narrative," a mix of the Mathinian and Lukean stories of Jesus's birth. The story is incredibly woven into the fabric of Western culture. We all know at least some of it, and most Americans like most non-Islamic Europeans can probably sing at least the first few lines of one or two carols. It is our story.

Is it 'historical?' The conformed story blends two versions written decades apart that do not exactly agree. The narratives bear a striking resemblance to stories in the Apocrypha and then contemporary non-Jewish folk lore. At least one narrative mentions Romans doing things the Romans did not, we now think, do. So probably not exactly.

This much is certainly true. Jesus was born. His mother was probably named Miriam. His father may have been named Joseph. He did certain things, said certain things and suffered certain things. Christians claim he was incarnate God and have done so almost from the moment he was executed.

One can start all sorts of arguments about how all that worked and when. Was Jesus fully divine at birth? Line up your theologians! Was he able to recognize and express full indwelling of God as he undertook the final days of his life? Line up other theologians. Did he fully recognize his divinity on the cross? Line up most of the rest of the theologians.

I find I do not care much. Yes I do have an opinion, and yes I can back it up with relevant Biblical scholarship. But I do not care. I suspect God does not care either.

When we celebrate the birth of Jesus we are not celebrating the precise sequence of the events. We are celebrating the amazing gift by god, to us; of god. God given to us determined to love us even though we try so hard to be unlovable. God who calls us to be lovers of mankind, even though with Peter we tell him, "Go from me for I am sinful."

This event, the coming of Jesus -- the incarnation, changes everything. It does not matter one bit how it works. "How" is God's business. That it requires us to believe the unbelievable, and do the un-doable is what matters. In its telling, the assent of a peasant girl making it the story of people not elites matters. Mary, for all of us, gets it. She cares and as she visits Elizabeth she celebrates. The story conquered an empire, and most of a continent in short order. Incarnation is what matters however it works.

Our grand daughter singing her heart out as an Angel did not think theological fine points, nor did it concern her that Silent Night was written centuries later and so was not sung on that night. She did worry about Mary and Jesus being warm enough. She got it: Jesus comes: we care and celebrate.

I think that is what the self-anointed holy people in AC-NA inter alia miss. "Jesus comes we care and celebrate" is the good news. Jesus loves us and we do not understand how or why. Nothing about sexuality, laws or church politics, only he comes, we care and celebrate the good news.

Which is why I find their claim that the horribly unholy have a "new gospel" ring hollow. There is only incarnation and celebration. There is nothing new here, except that this story is eternally new and eternally calling us to care and celebrate.

When Dr. Williams pollutes the season with amazing dishonesty by calling his take it or leave it document a draft he misses the whole of the good news. Jesus comes: we care and celebrate. We do not lie about a "covenant" not being punitive while a full quarter of its content is designed to limit who celebrates with whom. We do not as he constantly does, seek to accommodate evil1. We care and we celebrate, that is the good news.

For 2000 years we have been called to care and celebrate and we have responded with laws, inquisitions, schisms. Still he comes, still the baby is in the stable and the children tell the story. That is the good news. He comes: we care and we celebrate. That changes everything. Nothing, nothing(!) else matters.


1) cf. Ugandan legislative processes.


Christal said...

I too, think that people often lose sight of the good news, and get so caught up in "rules" of Christianity. You do a fine job of pointing this out, Dad!

Anonymous said...

Suppose you don't believe that Jesus was ever born?
Why should I listen to something I don't believe?

St Laika's

Click to view my Personality Profile page