There really seems to be no time to blog this week. My parish seems to have as much sickness as health, as much heartache as joy, and as much American Saturnalia mania as watchful Advent peace.
I opted for wisely embracing what I’ve termed #quietAdvent, a church season of no social media apart from this blog. And what a wise choice it was—fewer political opinions to ponder, fewer distractions, fewer life dramas splashing through the pixels and into my mind’s eye.
The absence from social media has given me more time to read, more time to rest, more time to stay in the here-and-now of Catawba County. It has made me more present to the real time world vs. the cyber time world. It has increased my level of mindfulness. It’s as though all of me is in the real time world offering a greater degree of awareness, focus, and presence. Some could safely say, “J.D. Bryant is JD-With-Us.” No longer am I distant for I am present. Where my body is, there am I also.
The same is true for God. Though not limited by this statement, “where God’s body is, there God is also.” God’s body in bread and wine, God’s body on a cross, in a crypt, in the Jordan, in a uterus, in Mary’s arms, on Joseph’s lap, sucking milk from a breast, burping up air, crying when a bum is wet, taking up residence in a baptized people—the Church.
All of this is fulfillment of the promise to Ancient Israel’s prophets—that God’s intent is to come to dwell with God’s people. Far from some promise of abandonment, God’s promise is that of permanent residency. There is no escape plan from Earth! There is a cosmic colonization effort underway by Earth’s God.
The Lord’s Prayer is the colonization effort’s mission description. And the clear intent resounds in words of, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth and in heaven.” Words taught to Earth’s people by its God—Emmanuel. They are promise and purpose, intent and hope, far more declarative than speculative.
This colonization effort that began with prophecy came through the loins of a teen prophet, Mary. And the agency of colonization is a baby; no president, CEO, billionaire, military general, or Asimovian skeptic, just a baby.
“Where goes the body, there is God.” Just a baby–God in a body.
And this baby’s agency created the Church—even the same crazy-ass, divided, random thing that it has become in 21st century time. Yes—even with its self-centrism and self-absorptive components. Yes—even with its preoccupation with the American capitalistic take on what effectiveness and success looks like. Yes—even with its all too human face.
The Church surely has a human face!
Oh wait—that’s the face that God took—that all too human face. Huh! What of that?
God shows up to humans with an all too human face.
And rather than come to sort it all out, God chose to join it in the unsorted mix. Rather than come to fix all its woes, God chose to meet it there in those woes. Rather than come to judge it, God chose to forgive it. Happy thoughts! Happy thoughts!! Happy thoughts!!!
Emmanuel is God with us—not God spanking us, not God pranking us, not God yanking us. God doesn’t spank earth, prank earth, and doesn’t yank earth. God put us here for God-with-us uses us as living answers to a prayer which God prayed: “Thy kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” In other words, “come to earth and do on earth the same as done in heaven.” Emmanu—-With US, has come El—God. And God begins it as a baby.
In Matthew 1:18-25 it goes like this:
18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ 22All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
23 ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel’,
which means, ‘God is with us.’ 24When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.(NRSV)
Right there is the beginning of the colonization effort.
There is the beginning of the Church.
Some say that Church starts when Jesus is baptized, when the baby gets a bath. Some contend that it begins at Ascension. Others say it kicks off at Pentecost in a flurry of flaming tongues and multilingual polyphonic tones. That’s all faithful to believe. But isn’t it equally faithful, perhaps even more faithful, to believe that God begins the colonization effort when God gathers, joins, and creates a family. For where once there was isolation, now there is belonging. Where once there was separateness, now there is togetherness. Where once there was an invisible God, now there is visible real time God with a baby face.
And therein lies our preaching challenge, “Where does one look these days to find Emmanuel, God with us, God with a face?”
More to the point—“Are we presenting a real time God?”
Isn’t it all too easy to preach some sort of hooey that makes it seem like we are here, hard-pressed, suffering, languishing on what seems like one huge interminable wait for a not-so-present God who feels 10 trillion light years away, resting an arm on the Horsehead Nebula, warming toes by the Sol system’s star, using the pull of a black hole to enjoy an intergalactic breeze, all the while enjoying a God-sized cosmic cocktail of stardust and triple sec?
And what if some of us treat this as a chance to preach that misconceived notion of a rapture that will somehow take us to join the real time present God at some future date in some location to be disclosed at a later date? A notion that advances an image of God abandoning rather than God being with. A notion in direct opposition to the promises made by Ancient Israel’s God to Ancient Israel. A notion in direct contradiction to the words of God with a face.
Wouldn’t such preaching make our time on earth seem cheapened, wasted, valueless, entirely pointless? Wouldn’t that make it seem like what really matters is only the moment when God ceases what to some seems to be a generous self-serving siesta and gets back down here to set this spinning ball of ugly and pretty and smart and silly to rights? And doesn’t such a focus on what might as well be called “the reversal of the Ascension” seem to suggest that what’s done here really matters little? Maybe even imply that God’s colonization efforts have failed so now God abandons God’s people and God’s creation, right? That God doesn’t answer God’s own “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth” prayer, right?
How does this square with God’s promise of Emmanuel—God with us?
How does it square with God’s permanent residency neighborhood improvement promise made to Ancient Israel through Ezekiel?
27My dwelling-place shall be with them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 28Then the nations shall know that I the Lord sanctify Israel, when my sanctuary is among them for evermore. (Ezekiel 37:27-28)
How does it square with God’s gathering, leading, guiding, family creating promise made to Ancient Israel through Jeremiah in Jeremiah:31?
How does it square with God’s stuck-like-glue-bound-to-you promise made through Jesus in Matthew 28?
“And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Seems like, in light of these promises, we ought to be able to get our heads out of the clouds and see God With Us, God with a face. Seems like we ought to be enraptured through being encountered by a tangible present God in 21st century life.
So where might we look to see God? Behind a couch? Under a rock? On Netflix?
Might I suggest the Church? Yes—even the same crazy-ass, divided, random thing as it exists in 21st century time. She’s where I suggest that we look.
Especially when she stops expensing the present by dwelling inordinately and pointlessly on a future that is yet, and may never be, born.
Especially when her efforts turn to seeing and being God with a tender baby face.
Especially when she becomes the answer to a God-with-us prayer prayed by her God-with-us Lord; an Emmanuel prayer, a “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth” prayer.
Especially when she steps away from so much consumerism, moral perfectionism, and numbers-based self-validation.
Especially when she remembers that God’s answering of God’s own prayer through her looks like this:
God’s Emmanuel comes through Church. We are the body of God on this earth. Somewhere we seem to forget that God has a body. Somewhere we seem to forget that God is where one finds that body. And that body is Church. Church is God’s 21st century Emmanuel.
So what does this mean for the good ole earth?
It means that God thinks it deserves real time Emmanuel. And if the Church isn’t being real time Emmanuel, then who has opted out of answering God’s prayer, abandoned God’s colonization effort, been raptured right out of mission already?