Monday, December 10, 2012

Advent anxiety

"Of her, Emmanuel, the Christ was born . . ."

One of my singers squirmed in her chair with a question. This little girl asks with her whole body--eyebrows curved upward, body turned, toes reaching down to the dot under the question mark.


"Emmanuel. Jesus. God with us," I replied.


"'O come, O come, Emmanuel'? That's Jesus we're asking for."


What do we--what can we understand about "God with us"? Theologians use words like immanence and otherness to codify, to sum up the complexities they think and write about. Immanence is God coming close to us. Otherness is the great unknowable mystery of God (though secretly I wonder if it's also theologians congratulating themselves for creating a god whose is smarter than they are--how clever of them to be able to do that!)

My choir was preparing for a concert that happened yesterday. The program included a new setting by Michael Costello of Jaroslav Vajda's text "Peace came to earth":

Peace came to earth at last that chosen night when angels clove the sky with song and light and God embodied love and sheathed his might— Who could but gasp: Immanuel! Who could but sing: Immanuel!

I'm doubtful that rhetorical questions work in hymn texts. And this text's rhetorical questions cover a list of emotions worthy of an acting exercise: gasp and sing in this first stanza. The next stanza asks "who could but sigh" and "who could but shout?" And then there's "see," "thrill," "pray," "praise--Immanuel?" Question mark.

Immanence yet Otherness. Hidden power and might. How is that God with us?

A recent article in the New York Times by a Jewish theologian, Yoram Hazony, is titleded "The Imperfect God."

The God of Hebrew Scripture is meant to be an “embodiment of what is, of reality” as we experience it. . . . It is the hope that God is faithful and just that is the subject of ancient Israel’s faith: We hope that despite the frequently harsh reality of our daily experience, there is nonetheless a faithfulness and justice that rules in our world in the end.

I'm asking.

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