Does anyone read ‘Letters to the Editor’ anymore? Once upon a time, I myself wrote them frequently…but have largely abandoned the practice, figuring that the explosion of social media outlets has more or less rendered obsolete such editorial epistles.
So it has intrigued me in recent days to see the flurry of public reaction – published by the local rag – following a story that appeared a week or so ago about the ‘hipster nativity scene’ displayed (along with many others) at the Cathedral of St. Peter in Belleville, IL.
(What’s a ‘hipster nativity scene,’ you ask? Excellent question. The Post Dispatch describes it as including ‘Mary and Joseph taking a selfie with baby Jesus, the Three Wise Men on Segways carrying Amazon Prime boxes, and a “100 percent organic” cow eating gluten-free feed.’ Ahem.)
Amazingly, four (maybe five or six, who’s counting?) Letters to the Editor ensued, debating the merits of the piece. The one published Saturday morning caught my attention in particular, for its self-described “humble (or perhaps merely arrogant and modern) opinion” about the truth of stories such as the incarnation of Christ.
I’m a sucker for a well-written Letter to the Editor, I suppose. Always have been. So I found myself lingering a bit over this writer’s position regarding the local ‘hipster nativity’ controversy.
Such humility and intellectual honesty could help us rid ourselves of terms like “holy family,” of the beautiful but impossible notion of an immaculate conception* — and of the virgin birth that forced the church to invent it.
Seen through eyes of ‘intellectual honesty’, that word is precisely correct in describing the incarnation – or any of the salvific actions that subsequently flow from it. On some level, our human reason can’t handle the Truth…not the whole Truth, anyway.
Even so, as we celebrate the Third Sunday of Advent, we are encouraged – in the words of another letter-writer, St. Paul – to consider something beyond what our minds can grasp fully:
Do not quench the Spirit.
Do not despise prophetic utterances.
Test everything; retain what is good.
It is good to test. Perhaps even a holy instinct to do so. But we ought not let a devotion to reason and intellect blind us to the impossible that actually occurs in our midst. Routinely occurs.
You think about that when you have a chance to snuggle with your grandson, late in the evening. At 15 months old, he’s still working up to speaking his first word. But it’s clear he understands many words already. The Word is in him, shaping him, changing him…in ways that are impossible to fathom.
Impossible, but undeniably real.
You think about, too, the strange promise we hear from the lips of the great prophet Isaiah this weekend:
The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor,
to heal the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives
and release to the prisoners,
to announce a year of favor from the LORD
and a day of vindication by our God.
As I hear these words, I realize that I have already seen them come true – improbably, impossibly, but quite memorably – through my experiences of prison ministry. (On one occasion, I even saw men who, though shackled to the floor, were able to experience liberty and favor from the Lord. You can read much more about that impossible occurrence here.)
The Third Week of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, is a good time to immerse ourselves in these impossible things. We rejoice in that which our puny minds can’t begin to understand – a mighty God who chooses to walk among us (even amongst the hipsters!) and heal us, and love us…all the way back into wholeness.
Come, Lord Jesus!
*The writer apparently conflates Impossibilities here, but no doubt would consider Mary’s Immaculate Conception — that she was conceived without sin — just as unlikely an occurrence as God-With-Us, Emanuel.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.