22 December 2011

Now Dismiss

A recent comment from Lance has encouraged me to blog a little more openly about my faith, so here's a little pre-Christmas reflection.


In church, we've been counting down to Christmas with four songs that were sung in the days leading up to Jesus's birth. I missed the first, but the other three were Mary's, the angels' to the shepherds, and Simeon's.

I like the latter two best. I miss the days when I believed that heaven could speak to me in the most unlikely places, so to imagine myself hearing the angel song, say, while waiting on a crowded MRT platform would give me all the hope and foundation I needed. Never mind my doubt and throw off my anxieties if I could have a moment like that to remember: I saw angels and heard them sing. We all did. The light and the sound was incredible. God is real, and near.

At the same time, however, I suspect that I wouldn't be the one seeing the angels. That visit today would be made to day laborers at a construction site, slum dwellers, and flood evacuees sleeping on cold classroom floors. If there is such a God as the preachers have preached, he is a God of those for whom things are most hopeless, and I should be afraid to receive the word that the Gloria was sung.

The prophets of the Bible have warned against ignoring the suffering of the fatherless, the widowed, and the destitute. Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed not for sexual deviance, but for failing to care for the needy. The Messiah heralded by the angels brings justice, so for all the times I've failed to care, I should be afraid.

This is the point in the post where someone who means well rushes to the comment box and says, "But you're missing the point of the angel song! They're announcing the arrival of a Savior who banishes all fear! The Savior is for both rich and poor! Just accept him into your heart, and you won't have to worry about punishment; you'll be in heaven when you die!" (Plus a little side debate about faith and works.)

This is why Christmas can be difficult for me. Believing in and celebrating a Savior entails believing in the kind of God that would send a Savior, and would send one in the style set out in the Bible, which in itself requires a lot of rewiring on my part to be fully accepted. Once I get through those road blocks, I then have to consider the proposal that this Savior is Jesus of Nazareth.

And if it is Jesus, then it is the Jesus who made it a point to prioritize the poor and the outsiders over all the rest. It's the Jesus who, in one teacher's translation of the old Greek and Hebrew for "compassion," saw the multitudes and wanted to shit himself.

It's the Jesus who can tell you at the gates of heaven, "I don't know you," and whose ancestor Abraham may tell you that the gulf between your station and poor Lazarus's is too great to cross.

When I was smaller, I wanted to be the boy with the basket of bread and fish, ready to be offered and shared. Now that I'm older, I know that at my worst, I'm the Levite crossing the road to avoid the mugging victim, and at my best, I'm only the man in Mark 9:24, Thomas who needed to touch the holes in Jesus's palms to believe, and Zaccheus who needed a little shakeup to give his wealth away.

In some small measure, then, Simeon's song is comforting, because he received the sign he was waiting for, held his Savior in his arms, and knew that he could now die happy and at peace. On good days, I don't have to go through all these mental gymnastics, I can see how easy it is to "just" believe, and I have a little peace. On bad days, I hope there is a God, I hope he gives signs, and I hope I'll know how to recognize them, to grasp them before I die, so I can have a little peace.

And in the meantime, I do what work I can.