It is my firm belief that the most intimate relationship we have in our life is the one we hold with God. Whether or not we can ever allow ourselves to embrace the fullness of the theology that we are loved beyond measure by him, the hope that God's love is constant and pervasive can get us through our bleakest hours, and persist when doubt rears its head.
Oddly enough (or maybe not), I can immerse myself in relationship with the godhead far more easily than a relationship with Jesus. I suspect this has something to do with my understanding of salvation history, whose sweep over time and space can appear to gobble up the finite human life and times of Jesus and move on. History provides a context and a landscape for appreciating the full impact of what we know as the incarnation. Of late, that has been on my mind.
In a recent email from my friend from Newtown, she relates that the massacre there "tested the power and joy of the Nativity." In her words, the presence in their life of their first grandchild made the Incarnation palpable. Perhaps I missed it, caught up as the media was with reporting the story through almost every human lens, but it seems that the only theological reflection that was offered for the masses at the time hit on the theme of theodicy--the tension between the existence of evil with an omnipotent God. The questions of faith that were raised swirled around "how could God let this happen?" and the desperate need to draw on one's faith to be sustained in the face of what was inexplicable. I suspect there was some good preaching here and there that made the connection between the incarnation and surviving life's traumas, but I also know that by the time we found ourselves at the manger many people were saturated with grief and numbed by the horror that we couldn't escape. Joy felt out of place at the very time we perhaps needed to embrace it most fully.
As is natural and necessary, most of us have returned to the daily grind and demands of our particular lives, and the power and joy of the Nativity won't have an opportunity to penetrate the particular darkness that the massacre at Sandy Hook bestowed. That is why I am so grateful for Carolyn's words and the testimony it reveals. I have been given an opportunity to turn back for another look, to scrape away the scabs that have already formed and let the light into the residual darkness. My compassion, empathy and prayers will forever be present for the families and the community so devastated by that December Friday. For myself, I am burrowing deeply into that marvelous intersection between God and humanity. I have an immediate context and a new canvas for attempting to understand the very power to which my friend refers, and to taste the joy that is its promise. It isn't easy. It is laced with pain and vulnerability. And it is in that place that I can experience Mary as she succumbs to the event that will change her world, and then transform ours. Her pain ushered a life into the world, and her love made her vulnerable to all that would come by way of that life. Scripture describes her heart as being pierced, and now Newtown has pierced ours also. It can only be pierced because love and joy are already there, and perhaps the recognition of that reality is what we need to remind ourselves that no matter the season, we are Easter people.
I am reminded of the words of an Easter hymn, "love is come again, like wheat that springeth green." Grief is born of love, and through grief we find our way to resurrection. Whether through a first grandchild or the birth of an idea whose time has come, love trumps death because love creates and perpetuates. I think it is that aspect of the Incarnation that gets overlooked when we dwell on the miracle of a manger birth. It is all of a piece, but when we get love right we are then equipped for death in a way that, eventually, makes it bearable. It is my prayer that I may do my part to make love palpable, that joy will persist.