Thursday, November 30, 2006

Feeding the animals

Start with the fact that Bethlehem...

בית לחם

...means "house of bread" in Hebrew.

Jump forward to chapter 6 in John for Jesus' definitive declaration of himself as the "bread of life" and we can see the obvious significance. The nativity narratives tell us more specifically that Christ was born in a stable and placed in a manger. But the manger is where the animals - domesticated beasts of burden - come to eat, and they aren't given bread. Is there significance in that? I think there is a connection here with the Creation account in Genesis, and with an episode of horrible inhumanity in 2 Kings ch. 6.

In Genesis, God created both man and beasts on the 6th day. The beasts came first, then man was created. Man was made from the earth, like the beasts - but was made imago dei (more specifically, made in the image and likeness of Jesus Christ, but that's another angle that I've got to remember to write down before I forget it!) Jeff Cavins makes a big point about how the sinister nature of the number 6 in scripture can be tied to this "day of the beasts" connection. Man is rooted as creature with the other living creatures of the earth by being made with them on the same day. But man was made greater than the beasts with the capacity (via existence in time) to become greater through obedience to the Father.

In light of this, the significance of Jesus being born among beasts can be seen.

There was a section in 2 Kings that struck me last year when I was reading it durning Advent. There are those verses in the Bible that stop you dead in your tracks and are so easily dismissed as abberations . I've heard Psalm 137 used as an example of why scripture is not free of error, but when you actually READ it, anyone can see that the babies being dashed on the rocks are the children of Babylon - the small tormenting demons that lead us astray - it makes complete sense.

Back to 2 Kings! Here are the verses that woke me up:

25: And there was a great famine in Sama'ria, as they besieged it, until an ass's head was sold for eighty shekels of silver, and the fourth part of a kab of dove's dung for five shekels of silver.
26: Now as the king of Israel was passing by upon the wall, a woman cried out to him, saying, "Help, my lord, O king!"
27: And he said, "If the LORD will not help you, whence shall I help you? From the threshing floor, or from the wine press?"
28: And the king asked her, "What is your trouble?" She answered, "This woman said to me, `Give your son, that we may eat him today, and we will eat my son tomorrow.'
29: So we boiled my son, and ate him. And on the next day I said to her, `Give your son, that we may eat him'; but she has hidden her son."
30: When the king heard the words of the woman he rent his clothes -- now he was passing by upon the wall -- and the people looked, and behold, he had sackcloth beneath upon his body -- 31: and he said, "May God do so to me, and more also, if the head of Eli'sha the son of Shaphat remains on his shoulders today."

Fighting over whose baby to boil! Pretty jarring imagery for sure, but I couldn't help thinking it had a greater meaning. You've got the King witnessing the horror visited upon his people. Why? Because he failed in faithful obedience to God's covenant. Who does he blame? He blames the Lord and seeks to kill the prophet in retaliation.

I'm seeing Gospel allusions here that I can't quite list in confident detail, however there is an immediate connection that can't be ignored. The suffering people had resorted to eating their children. What's worse is they end up were bickering over whose baby to eat when and reneging on their initial macabre arrangement.

As uncomfortable as it is to think about, on Christmas day, God answered the demand of the desperate woman of Israel, "Give us your son that we may eat him." What's more, the Bread of Life was first shown to the world in a manger, in a stable, amid the sounds, sights, and smell of beasts. This is a setting which should remind humanity of our own nature as lowly creatures. And when we look at the Eucharist, we should also ponder the unfathomable humility of our God, who became low so that we may rise up with Him.

And Christ is given to us, as vs 27 alludes, from the threshing floor and from the wine press.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Done and Done

There is such a simple, yet awe inspiring distinction between Hannah's praise to God when presenting Samuel in the temple...

1 Samuel, ch. 2
1: Hannah also prayed and said, "My heart exults in the LORD; my strength is exalted in the LORD. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in thy salvation.
2: "There is none holy like the LORD, there is none besides thee; there is no rock like our God.
3: Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the LORD is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed.
4: The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength.
5: Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger. The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn.
6: The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
7: The LORD makes poor and makes rich; he brings low, he also exalts.
8: He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the LORD'S, and on them he has set the world.
9: "He will guard the feet of his faithful ones; but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness; for not by might shall a man prevail.
10: The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken to pieces; against them he will thunder in heaven. The LORD will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king, and exalt the power of his anointed."

...and the Magnificat...

46: And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord,
47: and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48: for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed;
49: for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
50: And his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation.
51: He has shown strength with his arm, he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts,
52: he has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree;
53: he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away.
54: He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
55: as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity for ever."

The covenant promises are all in past and past perfect tense. Mary is declaring that the covenant Hannah praises in the OT has been fulfilled by the Incarnation. Considering Christ was in-utero when she proclaimed this, these are words of immense power and faith!

Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.

Friday, November 17, 2006

True God and True Man

The man loves his run-on sentences, but this one's a beauty!

To regard Christ's knowledge as though he carried out his actions in time from some vantage-point of eternity - rather like a chess player of genius who quickly foresees the whole course of the game, and simply moves his men through a game which for him is already over - would be to do away entirely with his temporality and so with his obedience, his patience, the merit of his redemptive existence; he would no longer be the model of a Christian existence and of Christian faith. He would no longer be qualified to narrate the parables of expectation and waiting which describe the life of his followers.

Hans Urs Von Balthasar - A Theology of History, pg 39

At the beginning of that chapter he declares that "Christ's existence is receptivity". Since you have to say that our existence is subjective (JP II and Edith Stein really hammer that philosophy out well), it follows that our subjectivity relies totally on the receptivity of Christ to the Father. Our best hope is to be a reflection of that reception. So when we waste time in life trying to "find ourselves" it truly truly is a waste of time. The words of Paul frame the experience all creation is ultimately preparing for:

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. - 1 Corinthians 13.12