Thursday, December 5

Creator of the Stars of Night [9th century Latin trans. Mason Neale 1851]

Qui condolesse interitu
Mortis perire saeculum,
Salvasti mundum languidum,
Donans reis remedium.

In sorrow that the ancient curse
Should doom to death a universe,
You came, O Savior, to set free
Your own in glorious liberty.

What prompts God to come to us?  That is the question at the heart of the second stanza of the ancient poem.  The answer is surprising.  It is not that God's righteousness is offended and must be assuaged.  It is not that God desires to bring retribution on us for transgression.  It is "sorrow" over the deathliness of sin which prompts God to come as one who heals.

In orthodox Western theology this attitude is not the norm.  More often in the theology of the West we have focussed on the guilt, shame, and consequence of sin as a juridical question.  But here we find a God not as the angry judge so much as the caregiver who is sorrowful about sin and who moves not to punish but to "heal," the Latin Donans reis remedium means "give healing."
The season of Advent is partly a season dedicated to the earnest consideration of the expectation that Jesus will come again.  Some Christians see that Second Coming as a violent reordering of the world order where the righteous will be rescued and everyone else will be left to suffer.  A raft of popular Christian novels have described this version of the Rapture in detail.

But if we want to know what God is likely to do in the Second Coming of Jesus, it seems reasonable to ask, "What did Jesus do the first time he came?"  Did he conquer the earth through force?  Did he smite those who opposed him?  Did he lack compassion for the sinners with whom he came in contact?  No.  

He rejected conquest by force and violence, chastising Peter for raising a sword in his defense [John 18:10-11].  He taught that it was wrong to attack one's enemies saying,   "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,   so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous." [ Matthew 5:43-45].  When confronted with the sin of adultery, "Jesus straightened up and said to her, 'Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?'   She said, 'No one, sir.' And Jesus said, 'Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.'" [John 8:10-11]

The God we seek in the Christ-child;  the God whose return we long for is a God who comes to heal, to restore life in all of our most deadly places.  In his grace we are set free to live in the liberty which love provides.  Not a liberty defined by doing anything we like, but a freedom to love others and work for their healing just as God has loved and comes to heal us.

Daily Collect:
Healing Liberator, God of sorrowful redemption.  You came in love and promise to come again in order that we might have life and have it fully.  Help us who follow you to join you in your work this Advent season of letting mercy and compassion out run our inclinations to judge and punish.  May we be faithful people who do what love requires without resentment.  In the name of the one who came with healing in his hands, and compassion in his heart, our Lord, the Christ.  Amen.

Paul Lang