Joy

The Joy of Transformation

Texts for contemplation: Matthew 3:1-17; Mark 1:1-11; Luke 3:1-21; John 1:19-34; John 2:1-11

Although we have left behind the celebration of Christmas, liturgically we are still basking in the light of God manifest in human flesh.   This is also the time of Carnival and Mardi Gras.

We tend not to give much thought to this period between Christmas and Ash Wednesday.  We may stop briefly to hear God’s call to the Beloved and speak of God’s love. Yet, We wait to hear the call to repentance till we enter the somber self-reflective desert landscape of Lent.

Epiphany iconWe first hear John the Baptist cry of metanoia, repentance, as we prepare for the joy of Christmas, and we encounter the fiery prophet John the forerunner again as we celebrate the Baptism of Christ at Epiphany.

We are in a moment of enlightenment, of ecstasy or celebration.  The joy of Christmas hasn’t come to an end, not yet.  From Epiphany to Ash Wednesday we continue in that joy through deepened understanding and enlightenment.

God the Father speaks to the Son Jesus of Nazareth as the Spirit confirms and presents this speech, “this is my beloved in whom I’m well pleased.”  These words are spoken to a human being.

The gift given to all through God’s words to Jesus of Nazareth in that moment of the Baptism is something we have to prepare to receive.  John the Baptist proclamation and call to repent calls us to prepare ourselves for the joy of transformation.

In this moment in which God as trinity and God as incarnate in the human Jesus of Nazareth is revealed we also can see God’s love for all humanity and all creation.  In Jesus Christ as the incarnation of God the Son, all humanity and all creation is taken up into that address.  In Jesus of Nazareth, God the Son in human flesh, all humanity is the beloved in whom God is well pleased.  At the Baptism the individual Jesus of Nazareth isn’t the only one addressed, nor is this address addressed to all humanity without the mediation of Jesus of Nazareth.

How do we receive this amazing address and how do we find ourselves able to receive this love?  In some sense Johns preaching and call to repentance, or change of mind, way of thinking, addresses two very human responses to God saying you are my beloved: either we say Well yes of course or no that can’t ever be.  Both actually keep God at bay and at arm’s length.  One with a presumption of relationship the other a refusal of relationship based on an enlarged sense of shame and unworthiness.  Both underlie much pain and are the result of hurt we inflict upon each other as human beings.

This moment of revelation enlighten and manifestation should shake us.  God’s love is intense, it seeks our transformation into who we truly are, beloved of God.

We all have barriers to hearing God’s address to us in and through Jesus of Nazareth.  We must be prepared to receive God in human flesh; we need to prepare ourselves to receive the gift of being beloved of God in Jesus of Nazareth. We prepare to receive this gift in celebration and in joy, not in self-denial and sorrow (these are coming).

Liturgically, it is significant that we hear the call to repentance and God’s address to us as beloved, in a time of celebration and not first in the desert landscape of Lent.

If we are unaware of this season after epiphany and its joy, ecstasy and continued celebration of the incarnation, we may have a primarily negative view of repentance.

There is a place for the being cut to the quick by our human failings and the asceticism of Lent.  However, for us to have the means to thoroughly examine ourselves in Lenten discipline we must also know the joy of being called to repent because we are loved.

The first sign the Jesus performs according the Gospel of John is turning water into wine at the wedding wedding_cana_bulletinat Cana.  In the Gospel of John this follows directly upon Jesus baptism.  Jesus ministry and the reason his disciples and others first believe in him is because of this unnecessary and celebratory act.  Jesus attends a celebration of life and through turning water into wine not only allows the celebration to continue but does so with fine wine, some of the best the steward of the feast has ever tasted.

In this moment between Christmas and Ash Wednesday we are called to be opened to God’s justice and righteousness through celebration, in light.  We celebrate and in that celebration are called to repentance, to the change of mind and heart.  We tur to God not in shame, but the joy of God’s embrace of humanity and all creation in the person Jesus of Nazareth.

The Discomforting Joy of the Holy Nativity

Back in December as the refugee Crisis in the Middle East and Europe was in our  flight1                                  news cycles a meme went around that had a few iterations and said something like “if only there was a seasonal story about refugees” and one of the images used was images of the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt.

Peter Wehner  in his December 25th New Your times editorial speaks of the revolutionary aspects of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, or more to the point of the belief that Jesus as the messiah was the incarnation of God. Wehner wishes to remind us that the Holy Nativity , god come to us in a human infant, transformed our understanding of humanity.  The belief in the incarnation gives value to the physical world and more importantly our humanity, that it didn’t have before that.  Wehner wants to remind us of this radical and revolutionary story, that we often domesticate and make innocuous and thus meaningless. miniature holy nativity

We seek the meaning of this season (though we tend not to think that this season extends from Advent to the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the temple).  It is a well worn claim (and fuels some of the “war on Christmas” meme, that gets trotted out by certain media outlets) that much of our celebration of Christmas has little to do with the meaning of the Holy Nativity.  Here we might bemoan the consumerism of the season (especially leading up to Christmas day) or the ways in which the story is reduced to Kitsch, and there are innumerable innocuous and kitschy nativity sets around to back up this complaint. It’s interesting we seem to both be aware that what Christmas is for us culturally somehow misses he mark of its meaning even for Christians for whom it should make a profound difference in their views and actions in the world and oblivious that this is the case and carry on with those same celebrations.

I write this on the fifth day of Christmas of which there are twelve.  Even Christians who are aware of the twelve day season don’t pay attention to it much (as it gets lost in New Years celebrations) and then Epiphany/Baptism of Christ and the Presentation of Christ in the Temple are hardly kept in mind in our understanding of this season of the Nativity.

It’s hard to keep this all together. Also, if one looks too closely at  the Season of Christmas, the first 4 days are a buzz kill on our celebration.  First there’s the feast of Saint Stephen, and the story of his martyrdom as the first martyr (protomartyr).  We get a little break from all this with the Feast of St John the Evangelist, but with him we get his great mystical theology, and then the feast of Holy Innocents, infants and toddlers massacred by King Herod the Great for fear of the threat the Messiah born in Bethlehem would produce revolt and his overthrow .  With the feast of the Holy Innocents we are where we began this post and the flight into Egypt. For it was this threat from Herod that led the Holy family to flee.

The coming of God as a babe in the manger doesn’t only show us the value of our humanity it also in the midst of joy and celebration plunges us into the depth of human evil and suffering.  So, we are right to be reminded of the radical nature of this story, and how it challenges the comfortable and powerful.

Yet, perhaps we end up on the surface of this season, because we rush to its meaning and relevance.

The season of the Nativity and the Incarnation is long from the end of November to the 2nd of February the liturgical calendar invites us to contemplate God come to us as a human being, born of Mary.

The icon of the Nativity

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the  Holy Innocents/flight to Egypt

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, Baptism of Christ

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and Presentation of Christ in the temple,

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All bear deep and continual  mediation and reflection.

Take the time this season to meditate upon these stories of God who tabernacle, set up tent, with us ,like God did with the Israelite’s as God brought them out of Egypt and slavery.  Allow yourself to be transformed by this contemplation.

The meme and Peter Wehner’s editorial point out that this story should make a difference.  It does, though a the moment we are seeing that like the infant Jesus most can miss that anything has changed at all, and so we continue even after millennia of celebrating Christ’s birth we still have yet to be changed by this new reality and we use it not to contemplate its great mystery but to hide from ourselves and the mixture that is our humanity.

Let the joy of this season transform you, let it be true joy. A joy that rejoices in an amazing revelation of God and our humanity that won’t allow us to lightly pass over the great evil that lurks in human being.

And indeed we may never finish fully exploring nor ever plumb the depths of this mystery of God become human and human being taken up into God. May we be transformed as we encounter and are moved to action by this mystery.