26 November 2020
There are two cartoons. One in the Sydney Morning Herald which shows a huge wave with a fragile raft on it and a sign "Humanity", the second in the New Zealand Herald with an empty church and a vicar saying, "Now .. about those mysterious ways"
Two theologies are represented here and I think that the New Zealand Herald Cartoon has missed the mark and is a totally inappropriate response. Also if that is our theology we will have great difficulty with this natural disasters.
Today we pray for the victims of the tsuanami and I am using a meditation from Nahan Nettleton slightly adapted as he says much what I think is to be said in the face of the disaster.
Nine nights ago we gathered here to sing and celebrate
We told stories about a baby, A baby who would save the world, whose birth meant tidings of joy for all people everywhere
We spoke of God-made-flesh
We sang familiar songs, We enjoyed each others company. We went on to celebrate with food and friends and family. God was in heaven and all was well with the world. Or so it seemed
But all was not well with the world, A pressure was building up deep beneath the surface, Two unyielding forces were pushing against each other
And the next day all hell broke loose.
It was a simple thing really, those two great forces pushing against one another, One slipped a bit, The earth shuddered, The pressure was released, All quite simple, The sudden movement caused a wave. Quite explainable
After last Sunday morning church, in the early afternoon
That wave was tearing babies out of people?s arms, sucking beds out through hotel windows with people still in them, Turning idyllic beachside villages into churning soups of angry water and broken glass and car parts and blood and corrugated iron and dying children and splintered wood
It was all over in minutes, The water ran back into the sea taking with it whatever it wished whatever it hadn?t impaled or trapped or buried. We?ve all seen pictures of what it left behind, Haunting horrible pictures.
Mud and ruins and corpses, Tens of thousands of corpses, Old, young, men, women, The life sucked out of them, children dead, Hundreds and hundreds of dead babies.
What child is this who laid to rest on Mary?s lap is sleeping? We sang that on Christmas Day.
What child is this who laid to rest in the mud and devastation of Aceh?
And what child is this? And this one ? And this one?
Who knows? They have no names now, or none living to name them.
Every now and then one of the living gives a name to one of the dead and grieves.
What can we say? Who wants to sing of cute babies now? Who wants to stand up and talk of the Word made flesh?
There?s flesh strewn all over the streets, decaying in the sun.
What do those songs we were singing mean now?
Do the angels? tidings of great joy mean anything in the face of this?
Can we stand in the mud and debris of Banda Aceh or Phuket or Galle and speak of the one who is called Emmanuel, God with us?
Or would it sound obscene? But that?s the challenge isn?t it? Because if the Christmas gospel has nothing meaningful to say in Tamil Nadu or the Maldives or Meuloboh, then it doesn?t really have anything meaningful to say at all. We are just wasting our time here today.
But in the midst of the carnage and shock and horror what can we say? There are no words.
The lovely lines of peace on earth and goodwill to all sound impossibly trite and hollow
And worse still we are afraid to even speak the name of God aren?t we?
For inside there is a horrible question that we dare not face, that we don?t know what to do with. The Herald Cartoon was direct with a popular view, an empty church, a minister left saying "Now About your mysterious ways"
It is not just that our faith seems to lack adequate words of comfort. It is that our faith is not sure that God is not to blame
What did we sing today? - "Joy to the world He rules the world" and the psalm for today
Our words of sacred scripture? God sends the snow and frost and hail God speaks, the ice melts God breathes, the waters flow, That?s what it says
And if we believe that is not just poetic hyperbole but fundamental doctrine, If we believe that God directs the weather, that God speaks and the earth shudders that God can calm the waves with a word
then can we escape the awful conclusion that the tsunami is God?s doing?
And what did John say in our gospel reading?
All things came into being through him and without him, not one thing came into being. The tsunami? Through him?
Those who shake their fists at heaven and say that either there is no God or that God is a callous tyrant have got irrefutable evidence on their side this week. Perhaps every week.
Even if God didn?t directly make the tsunami doesn?t God have to accept responsibility for creating the things that create tsunami?
Or is God somehow exempt from manufacturer?s liability questions?
Let us not speak too hastily in defence of God, lest we be guilty of simply trying to prop up our own shaky faith and silence the doubts and fears that lurk within all of us. Let us allow God to speak for himself
I can?t speak to you as one who has the answers
Like you I am looking for signs of life amidst the chaos and devastation
But I can and must speak as one called by God to interpret what God says in the face of all this So what does God have to say?
What word am I to interpret?
There is a Word from God and the Word became flesh
The Word became flesh and cast in his lot with us
Why do we call Jesus "the Word"?
We call him the Word because he is what God has to say.
All that God has to say is made flesh in the Word
What God has to say in the face of unspeakable suffering is made flesh in the Word
There are all too many other words spoken about God
Everyone has an opinion, Some will say that God is absent, dead or doesn?t care. Some will say that God is all-powerful that nothing happens except at God?s say-so and that yes, tsunamis only happen if God wills them to. Some will say that the tsunami is God?s judgment
words words words
there are no end of words about God
But what does God have to say? Jesus
God, are you all-powerful? Jesus
God, do you care? The Word becomes flesh
God, did you make the tsunami? The Word becomes flesh
God, where are you? The Word becomes flesh
Of course there is always a temptation to try to repackage the Word
to make it say what we wish it would say
We want a messiah who will protect us from every danger and we can find words about God that will say that
We want a messiah who can calm the waves before they get us and we can find a story of Jesus doing that
We want a messiah who will ride in triumphant like the cavalry at the last minute and vanquish all that would harm us and bring us singing and weeping tears of joy to the victory banquet
Our reading from Jeremiah speaks with such words
But if we make the words say whatever we want we may miss the Word that God speaks altogether, the Word that takes flesh
Because God has spoken a Word and it did make the world shudder
The Word became flesh and the world shuddered
and a great wave of hostility and selfishness and bitterness rose up
and flung itself against the Word devastating all in its path
killing even children in its rage snarling, surging, seething, smashing
a great wave of darkness furiously seeking to annihilate the light
And where was God as the wave hit?
Wasn?t God right there bearing the brunt of it
Wasn?t God there clinging to his beloved child only to be overwhelmed by the wave and have the child ripped from his arms
and torn away on that surging flood of hatred
and battered and smashed and pierced and tossed limp and lifeless to the earth
It took a few days of news footage before it really got to me then I saw the film of a mother in Australia who had just got news that her daughter who she thought had been lost was safe and she wept tears of joy and relief and it hit me that everyone of those hundred thousand corpses represented a real person over whom there would be no such tears of joy and relief
Do I have any idea what it would really feel like?
I don?t know how I?d cope if it was real
I certainly wouldn?t want to be hearing any comfortable cliches like all things working together for good or they?ve gone to a better place
I doubt whether I have any idea what it would really feel like but I reckon God does because when we cried out for answers, for explanations, for deliverance
God spoke a Word and the Word became flesh as a beloved child
and the child was torn from the Father?s arms by a ruthless wave
and the waters of death closed over him
and spat him out as just another of the hundreds and thousands and millions of unnamed innocent victims down through the ages
I reckon God knows
And I reckon that as hard as we might find it to talk about flesh
while the nameless flesh of countless corpses are necessarily treated as little more than a threat to public health and piled into mass graves
God is still not afraid to be identified as flesh fragile flesh, limp and lifeless flesh
Because the promise of Christmas is not just that the Word became a cute and chubby baby , but that the Word became flesh and cast in his lot with us, hunted flesh, despised flesh, tortured flesh
dead and buried flesh, three days dead flesh stinking and a threat to public health
And although our story of the Word made flesh
does not stop with dead and buried, we will not really understand the rest of the story if we think of resurrection as just some kind of miracle cure, which means that death is no longer part of Christ?s reality
The book of Revelation gives a vision
of the risen one on the throne, who still looks like one mortally wounded
The risen one is still the crucified one,
The rising one is still the being-crucified one
The people who say all crosses must now be empty are wrong because the risen Christ is still, the suffering and dying Christ
The risen Christ who promised we would meet him in the least of these desperate and vulnerable ones can be seen lying dead in the mud in Khao Lak and Meuloboh
The Word became flesh
If you want to see what God has to say in the face of this
go walk among the ruins of Banda Aceh, or just turn on your TV
for God is speaking and the Word has become flesh
Perhaps as we begin to see what God is saying
we will begin to comprehend how blasphemous so much of what we blithely say about God really is and how chillingly we treat powerful and dangerous realities and casual and comfortable little things
Perhaps when we hold out our empty hands to receive the piece of bread we will serve to one another shortly we will recognise something of our solidarity with desperate hungry people
holding out empty hands for the food aid the world is trying to muster
And perhaps we will see in those images of the Father holding the limp body of his dead child the image of the Father who spoke the Word that becomes flesh and whose grief and suffering take flesh still
in body and blood, offered for the life of the world, and placed into our empty hands that we might live even in the face of death
And perhaps when we have heard that Christmas story
the story of God speaking a Word
which becomes human flesh and falls victim to the full force
of the waves of horror that assail the earth and its inhabitants,
a Word which continues to take flesh, in all the suffering and grief and desperation,
perhaps then we will be capable of hearing the story of resurrection
and singing our songs of joy with the depth that comes of knowing
their contexts of unspeakable fear, death and anguish
I pray that we might have the courage and compassion
to recognise the Word that God speaks this week and follow where the Word calls into the places that terrify and horrify us
the places where we will know what it means to cry out for salvation
the places perhaps the only places where we are capable of knowing
the Word of resurrection
the Word made flesh
the Christ born of Mary
With grateful thanks to Nat Nettleton © LaughingBird.net
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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