The Remnant at Advent | December 4, 2022 Rev. Dr. Dorsey Blake
O come, O come, Emmanuel, And ransom captive Israel, That mourns in lonely exile here Until the Son of God appear. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
We have entered the season of Advent. It is a sacred time of anticipating the coming or revelation of God on earth. The revelation will come from one whose will is the incarnation of the will of God. God is about to actively engage in everyday situations where people languish for lack of freedom and often even lack of hope. The anticipation is anchored in the history of covenanted and conquered people. In captivity they are. Disinherited they are. Kidnapped they feel. Imprisoned they are. They call on God to bail them out by sending someone who will pay whatever is necessary (ransom) to restore them to agency. Confident are they that their circumstances are going to change. They will be saved, delivered as a people by a progeny of God—the God who had delivered them out of bondage in the distant past. Embedded in the consciousness is the notion that the known world will not remain unchanged, that the reign of subjugating power will end. When that happens, there will be rejoicing, shouting, and celebrating the new birth that has occurred.
Let Christmas come
to the forsaken and downtrodden
where life is flat and rigid
and arduous day follows arduous day,
where futures seem bent to earthward.
– Leona Sansom
The Christian tradition claims Jesus of Nazareth as that deliverer. But why him? How did he become Jesus?
Dr. Howard contextualizes the Historical Root in which Jesus emerged. I will quote the passage from his book, The Mood of Christmas, in its entirety.
The trained mind when brought face to face with the mystery of Jesus has no choice but to seek to reduce it to a manageable unit of comprehension in order to understand it. In other words, it has to make sense. This is a legitimate and inescapable demand. One profoundly significant and primary consideration must be held steadily in mind as the historical quest is pursued.
Despite all the merit that there is in the scholarly and reverential researches into the facts concerning the historical Jesus, they do not, nor can they, explain him adequately. A spiritual genius, or any kind of genius for that matter, cannot ever be explained in any complete sense. This is true whether the exploration is in terms of his historical setting, his psychological pattern, or his social, biological, and religious heritage. Uniqueness is continually elusive; no explanation can compass why Jesus differs from those others whom the same explanation would fit.
Any explanation of Jesus in terms of the social or economic forces of this time must inevitably explain his contemporaries as well. Such analysis may explain why he was a particular kind of Jew, for instance, but it does not explain why the other Jews were not Jesus. What is most compelling about him is not so much the way in which he resembled his fellows, but the way in which he differed from all the rest of them.
It is reasonable to suppose that Jesus inherited the same traits as countless other Jews of his time. He grew up in the same society, the same traditions, pinnacled on the same funded prophetic insight, yet he was Jesus and the others were not. Often we seek refuge in history or psychology or economics and we are reluctant to face the problem remaining when history or psychology or economics has done its uttermost. All three disciplines, and others, are useful in their way; the tragedy is in forgetting what that way is. To quote a young sociologist who died long before high noon: “The scientific mood does not imply that other moods are fatuous or futile; it does not hold that the truths it enables men to discover are the only truths. . .. he [the scientist] knows too well that behind the symbols of mathematics and the formulae of chemistry and physics and the rigid generalizations of psychology and social sciences lie the unexplained mysteries of twilight and music, of autumn nights fringed with silver, of human fortitude and idealism.”
How may a critical mind adjust itself to what remains as an irreducible, inescapable residuum about Jesus Christ? One contemporary New Testament scholar says, “Some may come to faith in God and to love, without a conscious attachment to Jesus. Both nature and good men besides Jesus may lead us to God. They who seek God with all their hearts must, however, some day on their way meet Jesus.”
At long last there is no successful argument against a life. The word “myth” has been used to cover the inexplicable aspects of Jesus and the ground of his amazing revelation of the life of God. But the word ‘myth’ is used most profoundly in ‘its older meaning, representing something that is not strictly science, history or philosophy, but is the attempt to set forth in practical form what is felt to be above and beyond expression in the categories of formal thought.”
Jesus did create in men[people] a faith in himself as one who had a primary experience of the heart of God. Perhaps he did not walk on the water, perhaps he did not turn water to wine, perhaps he did none of the miraculous things ascribed to him, but his contemporaries said he did these things. That fact is a tremendous revelation of the astounding proportions of his stature.
If God is and if He [God] is love, as I believe most profoundly, and if in Jesus there is the projection of this central affirmation in concrete flesh and blood, then in such a person there are inevitably precious clues as to the meaning of God and the meaning of life. His way of life, then, becomes the way of life at its highest and best.
Thus the historical quest throws important light upon the central figure of the Christmas story.
For some, the anticipation in Advent is also related to the Second Coming of Christ. But what have we done with the first coming?
People are captive throughout the world. Violence stalks our land. O Little of Bethlehem is under occupation. Where are those to set the captive free? Thurman speaks to the life of Jesus as an amazing revelation of God to the extent that those who heard about him attributed all types of miracles to him. The miracle was that he surrendered his life to, or he partnered his life with God so completely that his life was contagious. The contagion freed people he encountered, opening eyes that had not previously seen the glory of life and themselves, leading them into paths of liberation. He broke no physical chains but psychological, historical, philosophical ones. He broke shackles of emotion, of the mind and heart, of the soul. People he encountered no longer languished or mourned in lonely exile. They rejoiced and greeted him with Hosannahs. The one they hoped would ransom them had done just that but not in the way anticipated.
That is our calling today as disciples of Jesus. And that may be quite different from being Christian. Let us call a cease-fire on hatred, hypocrisy, and fear that immobilizes us. Perhaps if we could stop for a small interval, it would grow on us and become a way of life.
Once again the smell of death rides on the wind
And fear lurks within the shadow of the mind.
One by one the moments tick away.
Days and nights are interludes
Between despairing hope and groping faith.
Of this bleak desolation. Life seems unaware:
Seeds still die and live again in answer to their kind;
Fledgling birds awake to life from prison house of shell;
Flowers bloom and blossoms fall as harbingers of fruit to come;
The newborn child comes even on the wings of death;
The thoughts of men are blanketed by dreams
Of tranquil days and peaceful years,
When love unfetter will keep the heart and mind
In ways of life that crown our days with light.
There is a remnant in the world that refuses to have our dreams kidnapped, that knows we are not alone in our quest for a world pleasing to the God of Life and Creation, a remnant that has the courage to believe that we can do it, that we must do it, not just for ourselves, but for all who have gone before and for all that will come. For,
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. Isaiah 9:2