Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Unthinkable darkness riven with unbearable light

Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato
via Wikimedia commons
Incarnation. It is not tame. It is not touching. It is not beautiful. It is uninhabitable terror. It is unthinkable darkness riven with unbearable light. Agonized laboring led to it, vast upheavals of intergalactic space, time split apart, a wrenching and tearing of the very sinews of reality itself. You can only cover your eyes and shudder before it, before this: "God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God . . . who for us and for our salvation," as the Nicene Creed puts it, "came down from heaven." 

Came down. Only then do we dare uncover our eyes and see what we can see.

— Frederick Buechner in Whistling in the Dark: A Doubters Dictionary

I'm not a Christmas romantic.  At one level, I cherish the holiday trappings:  the cookies, the tree with the ornaments, the oddly useful things tucked into stockings, the carols.  The traditions which tie me to family and community of faith. There is beauty here, and indeed, grace.

But this is a holy day, one that I find more wrenching than Easter. This emptying, Mary of Jesus, the pouring forth of the Word into the world.  To hold God within you, to feel His movements, then labor to send him forth, into a darkness she had no wish to inhabit.  To be riven by Light, that God might dwell among us.  This is not touching, it is terrifying.

On the last Christmas of his life, Alfred Delp, SJ reflected on Christmas as an event that “burned away our romantic concepts.”  In a dim church tonight I watched the flames skitter across the charcoal in the censer, swung it gently until the smoke rose, then watched the presider add incense, and crush the briquet, until it flared brightly and carried our prayers aloft.  I heard the words of the Gospel through a fragrant veil, watched the flames in the candle burn away.  "The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear."

My friend Robin is preaching about cataclysmic shifts tonight, about how the ordinary combines to form the extraordinary. Mysteries that take our breath away.  Unthinkable darkness run through by Light from Light.

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