(The third Sunday of Advent was historically known as Gaudete Sunday, from the Latin word ‘rejoice’, the first word of the Introit, the liturgy’s opening verse. Marked by a pink candle and singing Mary’s song of joy, the Magnificat, this day was a break in the Advent fast that prepared the community for the mass of Christ’s nativity on December 25. Follow these links for the texts that Sunday or other commentary on this Sunday.)
My mother had surgery on Friday. I went up to her house on Wednesday, a day early, because of the storm that was to hit northern California Wednesday night and Thursday. It was my plan to work from there on Thursday and Friday afternoon, but Mom needed more care than I expected, and it was harder to concentrate than I imagined.
There are moments when you suddenly see your parents in weakness and vulnerability. No matter their age or your age, such moments are disquieting. Parents are like gods when you are young. Imagine, for a moment, that you lived in the presence of someone two, three times taller than you. Consider those little pencil marks on the doorjamb where the child’s growth is marked from year to year and measure them against an adult height. We are intimidated enough by someone who is seven feet tall. What if they were eighteen feet tall?
They are gods to us: powerful, majestic, wise, ever-present, all-knowing. I regret ever raising my voice to my daughters; I can’t imagine an eighteen-foot tall human shouting at me. (Though, to be honest, I learned early not to shout. We had an abandoned, abused, dog I had rescued who piddled in fear anytime I raised my voice. Cured me quick.)
It’s hard to see our gods weak and frail. It’s hard to be reminded the day will come when we will have to live without them.
I can’t imagine what it was like for Peter, James, and John, Mary, Mary and Joanna, and the others, to see Jesus crucified. The one who surely seemed eighteen feet tall and all knowing, now crushed, a frail and broken man.
We rush so quickly to the triumphant resurrection. We tend to talk about the crucifixion in the abstract. We even talk about the resurrection in abstract and theoretical ways, without ever considering the emotional turmoil it must have been. The confusion. The fear and doubt, hope and incredulity.
We don’t consider that this was a giant among men whose dearest friends, his “children”, saw him reduced to broken flesh. He was their whole world… Now they were wiping his lips with a wet sponge.
It is a bizarre thing to point to that shell of a man and say, “There is the light and life of the universe.”
This last Sunday was supposed to be about joy. But I couldn’t get there, myself. I wanted the sermon to be upbeat. I wanted it to be full of the rich and wonderful grace in those texts. But it was as if I were locked into my left brain, with my right brain busy pondering the images of the past few days: anointing her incision, holding her up as she staggered and careened towards the bathroom, seeing her drift in and out of consciousness.
“The Word became flesh and lived among us.” It doesn’t say the Word became a darling human baby. It says the Word entered this strange world as a helpless infant, becoming a noble adult, then a broken, tortured man stumbling towards his death. This, the faith dares say, is the embodiment of heaven among us. This the font of all grace and truth. This the hidden secret of all existence. This our rebirth.
Such a mystery.
I can understand why many in the ancient world mocked the thought. I also understand why many found it holy. For where do we find our true humanity? Where are we closest to the image of God in which we were made? while holding a trophy? or while holding the arm of someone stumbling beneath their cross?