So... now thinking abut the Mass readings again while I have "Old John Paul saying Mass" on in the background. I like looking at the footage of St. Peter's every year and remembering my visit in April '98, as well as enjoying the High Renaissance architecture and art. The Lukan Christmas story was read tonight, from the announcement of the census to the announcement of the birth by the angels to the shepherds.
We live in a world of terrorism interrupting peaceful days; a world of poverty smearing the seeming-beauty of the wealth of our times, a world of genocide perfected as a system amidst the unprecedented communication and global unification of the last century. It is a world not much different than that of earlier ages, ages that 20th/21st century bigotry likes blindly and smugly to look back at as "barbaric." It is a world that cries out for a saviour: someone to balance the scales, to set wrong right, to deliver a quality ass-kicking to those who really need it. (Which means other people, not us, of course.) The world has always needed a saviour.
The Jews of Jesus' day could imagine a saviour: a new David--the forger of an empire that could crush their Roman conquerers and last forever. We can imagine a saviour: a Superman with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men; a Neo who can deliver justice and work miracles all with incredible style. We know what needs to be done. We can hand God a list upon request that would detail all that God needs to take care of, if only God would finally get around to it.
And when God is said to have gotten around to it, what do we get? A baby.
How utterly beside the point.
How astonishingly clever.
The reversal begins here. Not a conqueror's or superhero's reversal of force and violence, imposing a new order on a world which doesn't really want to accept it; rather a reversal of subversion--of the first becoming last and last first, of our blind eyes beginning to see, of all of us in our walking death being invited to be born again into a new, expanded kind of life. It is a slowly-expanding reversal seeping into our world like a computer virus working its way through a system, converting it into something new, but in this case, unusually, converting it into something more than it was before, not less. We have trouble seeing it. We still expect and prefer the powerful drama of a saviour dealing out a two-fisted justice. We look at the Christmas images and easily accept them on the sentimental level that we have for babies, and animals and song. But slowly, the reversal even opens up our perceptions and what made no sense before begins to become apparent. For we need salvation not only from our flaws and terrors, but from our very notions of what salvation would be. And we get this in what Origen of Alexandria points out is the most terrifying thing that Christianity teaches: that God would become a baby and begin to cry.