"Holy Crap, or, How the Glory Finds Us"
Preached at House for All Sinners and Saints
Second Sunday of Christmas
1 January 2012
Texts: Isaiah 61.10-62.3
"Someday, we'll fall down and weep, and we'll understand it all. All things." - Mr. O'Brien in The Tree of Life
-An Entry from the Journal of Joseph, husband of Mary, father of Jesus:
-“Holy Crap. And I’m not just referring to what exploded from the rear end of my son, who is God Incarnate. OK, so it was kind of fun at first. Running in after every diaper change to tell Mary, ‘guess what? I just wiped God’s bum!’ She’d give me that look like, ‘I love you, but you’re a complete idiot.’ Absolutely true, but it got old fast. Still, a little humor can’t hurt when you’re trying to raise any kid – let alone the freaking Creator!
-Because man, no one told me it would be this much work. As I swaddle the little guy each night, I think often of how the prophet Isaiah said he would “clothe us in garments of salvation.” No one mentioned he would also puke all over our garments! And whoever wrote that song “Away in a Manger” with that line “the little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes?” Guys’ a complete liar, and the bags under my eyes prove it. Oh, and that part in the Gospel of Luke that says that Mary and I never, you know, had relations until after the child was born? Yeah, still waiting for that to come true.
-Don’t get me wrong. I love the boy. And as much as it’s utterly screwed up my life, I have to say, I wouldn’t trade this for the world. But you know, I thought being the father of the Messiah would be more…glorious. Because after the shepherds and the wise dudes and the angels, it’s back to the same dead-end town, the same dead-end job, and the same dead-end people…
-Crap. Again. Literally. Gotta go. Joe.”
-OK, so maybe that’s not exactly what Joseph said. But even if you’re not a parent, maybe you share some of his sentiments. After all, this is the week after Christmas. The time when we’re almost obligated to play the post-holiday blues as the celebrations wind down, as the post-New Year’s hangover kicks in, and we go back to the same old mundane life the advertisements promised to help us escape. It’s like the Zen master said, “after the ecstasy, the laundry.” And the laundry’s still a chore.
-If you’re like me, then this return to ordinariness feels unacceptable. We were promised peace on earth, good will towards all! Who pulled the plug? And what’s with today’s Gospel, a story of two very elderly people, Simeon and Anna, who spend their whole life…waiting? Didn’t we just finish an entire season of waiting? Are the people who select the weekly lectionary texts playing some sort of cruel prank on us?
-I hate waiting, and I hate not having, and I hate the messiness and monotony of the mundane. After tasting something transcendent, I want something more. And I want it NOW. And so, like a good American shaped by the economy of the Protestant work ethic, I try to make it happen myself. I find carrots to chase, ladders to climb, quests to pursue, things to buy. I set goals and make promises to myself and others. I make absurdly unrealistic New Year’s Resolutions. Anything to hold on to that feeling of gloriousness.
-Problem is, that sounds like this thing Martin Luther called a “theology of glory.” Such a theology, which we all excel at, tells us that the glory is always somewhere else. In a golden age past. In an idealized future. Anywhere except here. And in order to get to that glory, we need to spend our lives trying to work our way towards it. Trying to be good enough to deserve it. Trying to take matters into our own hands. The theology of glory always sounds like this: “If I could only be or do or have X, then…”
-Just this morning at the breakfast table, my mind was percolating about possibilities. See, this New Year’s is bittersweet for me. While it marks six months of serving at HFASS, it also marks six months until internship is over. Six months until it’s time to leave again. Six months until let down. My response? Ponder ways to prolong the imagined perfection! DO something or FIND some way to engineer the future in my family’s favor.
-My reverie was broken by a loud “Papa!” from Abby. I managed a stammer before Leah said, “Matthew, she’s asked you the same question three times already!” I felt like the father in the film The Tree of Life, who, in a moment of brokenness, tells his son, “I wanted to be loved because I was great, a big man. I’m nothing. Look at the glory around us: trees, birds. I lived in shame. I dishonored it all, and didn’t notice the glory. I’m a foolish man.” Playing the glory game, I ignored the glory prattling on right in front of me. I too am a foolish man. I too live in the shame of sin. That’s where the theology of glory will always lead.
-But see, I wonder if that’s why today’s Gospel is such Good News. Like all good Jews, Mary and Joseph do the ordinary, expected thing. They take their son to be circumcised in the temple. Nothing special, right? But when they arrive, they are approached by two strange old people who, led by the Holy Spirit, remind them, and us, of the glory asleep in their arms. Simeon bursts into song, proclaiming, “Finally! After a lifetime of waiting, I’m seeing with my own eyes God’s promises fulfilled! And the light of this salvation is the glory of us all! It’s right here, this little boy, here for us!”
-In God’s way of doing things, we do not find glory; instead, glory has this surprising knack for finding us. And see, this glory, this grace, seeks us, not in some ideal realm of past or future, but here and now, in the midst of the ordinary, the routine, the messy, broken, every day fleshiness of our mundane existences. Christ’s Incarnation short-circuits our systems of seeking after glory, because in that very Incarnation, that glory is revealed as a gift that’s always already been given to us. That’s always already ours!
-Just listen to the words of Isaiah: “he has clothed me in garments of salvation, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, as a bride adorns herself with jewels…and you shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord!’ Jesus does not merely stop over to save us, and then leave us to fend for ourselves. By his Incarnation, by sharing our human flesh and our human fluids and our human journey of growing and living and dying, Christ also transfigures all of life. Jesus remains with us, joins His life to our own, clothes us in His glory, and remains with us, making beauty in the midst of ugliness, splendor out of suffering, saints out of sinners.
-Grace does not only redeem nature; it transfigures it. All of it.
-And see, I think this is exactly why Luther once summed up the Gospel as the fact that “God shits.” Because the shitting God is the only God who dares get messy enough to save us. Who loves us enough to sink deeply into the mire of our convoluted strivings after glory. Who deigns to touch our very flesh and make it His own. As a different Simeon, Symeon the New Theologian once said, “I move my hand, and it is the whole Christ who is my hand…I move my foot, and it shines like He does himself!”
-And, just as Simeon and Anna waited for Christ to find them in the temple, so in Christ, we also are provided places where grace finds us. In ordinary bread and wine, Christ comes to us, clothing us in salvation, forgiving our sins, building us up in our ordinariness, and sharing His very self. And just as Mary and Joseph experienced their child anew through the songs of Simeon and Anna, so we also are given a community – this community! – where we hear the Gospel of the Incarnate and Crucified Christ proclaimed. Where we can proclaim it to one another. Where, when we touch one another’s hands in offering the peace of Christ, we also experience His embodied presence. In Word, Sacrament, and community, God’s glory comes to find us. This is God’s glory, all around us, in this moment, here and now. Here in this place, where we can stop seeking, where grace finds us, we are God’s body, hidden under ordinary, broken, messy people, It is here, waiting together in song and symbol, that we are fashioned into a crown of beauty, for the sake of a world crowned in thorns.
-An Entry from the Journal of Joseph: “Just got back from Jesus’ dedication in the temple. Met some trippy old troubador types. Simply by his coming near to them, their faces seem ablaze with light, as if set on fire. He seems to make everything around him more beautiful. Was amazed. Wonder what I’m missing. Maybe the glory isn’t in angels, or in wise men, or even in the temple. Maybe he’s been the glory all along. Maybe it’s already mine. Something to ponder the next time I wipe the bum of God…”