Monday, December 15, 2008

Editorial: Christ Comes Thrice

Christ comes thrice. This is, of course, my way of announcing on the church sign that we'll have three Christmas services. It also, not coincidentally, refers to Jesus's three advents: he came to Nazareth as an infant, he came back from the dead in resurrected form, and he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead at the end of the days.

Christ comes thrice. To a Jewish author who wrote that there is something in the definition of Messiah that Messiah never comes, I can assert with some safety that Messiah is always coming. Jesus is always on the way.

There is, I'm told, a new trend of installing GPS locating units inside the baby Jesus in public manger scenes, to expedite the return of those Christ infants who will, inevitably, once again be stolen. On the one hand, I'm of course dissappointed when people take anything that doesn't belong to them. This is why we can't have nice things, and so on.

On the other hand, Jesus always was a slippery jit. He's in Nazareth, now he's in Egypt. Wait a sec, now he's in Caana and Galilee! Watch out over there in the desert, too. Now he's on his way to Jerusalem! Now he's by the Jordan! Now he's on the Dead Sea! And did you see him escape those Pharisees? They had him on the edge of a cliff!

Not only that, accoring to the Mormons he made appearances in America. And did those feet in ancient time? People have traced his missing years to Egypt, to Greece, and to ancient India, as well as to the much more plebian Essian sect in the desert at Qumran and the equally arid wilderness of Saint John the Baptist.

So I can understand the impulse to move the kid around a bit. This was the man, after all, who clearly refused to set up shop, despite the rabbinic practices of the day. And the son of man has no place to lay his head. So this makes the GPS tactic a little theologically misguided. If posession is, as they say, nine tenths of law, God is pretty clear that no one gets to keep Jesus. He's pure subject, no one's object but his own.

Indeed, religious thinkers have noted that the most significant move of the Old Testament is to have a God who goes with you and before you. This deity transcends your valley. God is everywhere, and, because of the prohibition of idolatry, no one place specifically.

Yet the second greatest shift of religious thought is to have YHWH active in history. This had not been the case; while the village chieftan could have told you where El was, they couldn't have told you when he was doing anything, except that it happened in the spirit world, which was more or less timeless except for crop cycles.

So God, on the whole, behaves something like an elementary particle. You can say where Jesus is or you can say when Jesus is, but you can't do both. It's like the end of my unwritten trilogy, where one character transcends time but becomes fixed in space, and the other character, named the Faith, becomes fixed in time but transcends the spacial distinctions of the universe.

"So he's here?" someone asks. "Because he's everywhere?"

"But the question you have to ask yourself," a wiser soul replies, "is when ?"

Christ is always coming. Jesus is always on the way. Christ comes thrice, plus this is my body, plus where two or more are gathered in my name, plus it is not me but Christ in me, never mind the traditional dogma of omnipresence. I think we might just overwhelm the satellites. I understand they still have difficulty tracking. Space and time are difficult together.

Electronics might tell you your position on a map, but they do have difficulty talking about a journey.

So, yes, this Christ comes thrice is also, if anyone should ask it, a horrible pun. I would think myself remiss, after all, if no one found a church sign remarkable. Besides, we follow a pilgrim God. With Advent we celebrate the beginning of God's humble, winding and impoverished journey to a holy place. That the holy place happens to be not heaven or a temple but a cross and pauper's tomb is, I gather, something of the point.

So we begin to tell again the greatest story ever told. We are careful to introduce Mary and Joseph, we build character through childhood and baptism, we create tension with the Pharisees, we climax with Holy Week, and we denoumont with commissions and ascensions.

I would do all my literature teachers a great injustice if I did not also know that this happens to roughly parallel the stages of the human sexual experience. My question for the world is why we choose this word, why out of all the world's possibilities do we tell our lovers that we are on the way, coming? When we are already very much physically there?

Are we sexual pilgrims? Is the question not are we meant for each other, but are we meant for each other in a week long drive to Mexico?

Therefore a man shall leave his mother and father and cleave.... He is coming. There is a trodden path. Christ is a bridegroom. The structure of the short story is roughly the same as the structure of the pilgrimage. These are sexy parables. Advent is a faintly erotic time of year; everyone is blushing. There are supernaturally fertile virgins. All the pleasant surprises are inevitable. Cresting a hill, you see a holy city, fertile and fecund in its valley below. Grapes burst at your touch.

Christ comes thrice. Messiah is always coming. The question you have to ask yourself is when?


brd said...

Wow. What a post. I must read this again later.

Anne G G said...

I agree. I find it delightful throughout - though a little scary there at the end.

Curious Monk said...
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