I've been sick lately, so I've been listening to a lot of Christian "this-and-that" on the internet. (May I interject here that being sick is a wonderful excuse for not writing posts for this blog; and I'm certainly invoking it here!) I like to listen to and learn from the many voices that speak to our confession of faith and the great tradition, particularly those that are participating in conversations on topics related to science and faith.
So, one morning I listened to a dialogue between a Christian science professor and an atheist science professor about whether or not morality is possible with or without God in a world that has come about through evolutionary processes. Both professors agreed that evolution has happened and that science should view human responses in light of evolutionary theory. Both gave credence to the idea that people can do good things with or without an appeal to God or religion. Both saw morality as a result of evolutionary effects in both humans and animals. Both professors kept saying the exact same things. I kept waiting for the Christian to say something significant, something challenging, or something thought-provoking about God. But, every comment he made just blended in with his opponent's with a sort of holistic niceness.
Now, in all fairness, I do not know how the Christian professor was approaching this debate. Maybe he thought that religious questions should be left to religious debates, and since this was a scientific discussion, he stuck with the science alone. (And I'm ok with his assent to theistic evolution.) He admitted to having had dialogue with the other professor in the past, so one can only hope they dealt with theological concepts at that time. But, after listening to this banal give-and-take for over an hour, the thought that struck me was: as Christians, can we ever be passive about matters that are informed by our faith? When given the opportunity, should we not always stand up for God? If God has truly transformed us, should we not readily give way to transcendence?
At the end of the discussion, during the Q &A, a man stood up and asked one of the hard, hard questions -- the one about outrageous suffering in this world and what we, or God, should do about it. And I thought, Oh, so now we're getting somewhere; now it's time to talk about who God is and what he so positively has done and is so incredibly able to do... But no, they only agreed that "religion" can be part of the problem, and we tend to mainly concern ourselves with the situations closest to us and shy away from addressing problems of staggering intensity. Having had my fill of this pathetic display of non-commitment, I decided to listen to something else.
And then I had one of those Psalm 73 moments -- "...till I entered the sanctuary of God..."
I listened to Penatonix' stunning arrangement of the contemporary classic Christmas song, "Mary, did you know?"
...walk on water
...the face of God
...the Lord of all Creation
...the Great I Am!
Once again and mercifully, I encountered the astounding miracle of the Incarnation: "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." And every year this miracle waits to be discovered anew, as Christmas rushes at us with thousands of frantic, glittery messages, tugging at the selfish desires of our millions of solitary hearts. It whispers on the busy streets and in the crowded stores and, most persistently, in the faithless heart, "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full."
In this world where the aching magnitude of Christmas has been reduced, blow by blow, to self-centered reductionism, Christmas still shines with the blinding light of transcendence. God became a baby boy. God walked on this planet, the one he has made. God encountered sorrow and wept. "'I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'"
The fierce light of the Incarnation calls us who have been made in his image and remade by his precious grace, to face the dark questions posed by this world with this radical declaration of Scripture: though it seems hidden and hopeless, God is redeeming his world. You see, although we so very much long to do so, we cannot give an explanation for the sin and evil that haunts our existence, because it did not come from here. Satan, the first created being to turn away from God, did so in the spiritual realm, far beyond our physical world in every way. The battle for earth was first fought in Heaven. "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."
You see, Satan hijacked earth. He introduced an evil that is not terrestrial, a horror we will never understand, though we sinfully embraced it. This brand of evil can only be opposed by God himself who set aside his garment of glory only to be wrapped in swaddling clothes. Only God could conquer the sin that came from the darkness without, but in order to do so he had to come into our world as one of us."This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him."
Just as the sin that seized us is otherworldly, so is the glory that has embraced us, "He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again." Therefore, we are called to a radical faith, one that reflects the light of heaven, our eternal destiny; so whatever we think or do or talk about should manifest that greater light. We must express a forward-looking point of view. We must yield ourselves to the self-less journey of spiritual formation. The things that concern us on earth must be the very things that will consume us in heaven.
If this is our goal, if this becomes our earthy obsession, if we like Mary know and treasure the incarnation in our hearts, we can face a world of the hard, hard questions with one resilient, miraculous answer -- God knows and he cares and he loves. He died on the cross for every hardhearted and brutal sin ever committed. He embodied every pain of every tortured soul --"for the joy set before him he endured the cross!" And every time we tug on the curtain that separates the knowledge of this answer from the reality of this answer, a little light escapes; it is the light of the Incarnation, of Christmas.
Mary knew, as she stood before both the manger and the cross.
For the sake of all who walk in darkness, do we?
(Scriptures (NIV) -- 2Cor. 5:21, John 10:10, 8:12, Eph. 6:12, 1John 4:9, 2Cor. 5:15, Heb. 12:2)