The people of Israel have been haunted by a deep calling. You might say they were spooked. They escaped empire in Egypt. As they gutted it out in the wilderness, and sought a restful break, God’s call seemed a distant reality. All this for the ones who call themselves the people of God! Perhaps. Their DNA seems infused with hope and expectation and the belief that they are called to rebuild their community. And so they sing and dance together expectantly awaiting that day when they will be able to plant their vineyards on the mountainsides of Samaria and reap the fruits of their labor. They eagerly anticipate a healthy and teary return to Zion’s holy hill, the blind, lame, and disconsolate at the head of the parade. There was a time when the people had given up hope, fearful that the forces of empire would continue to hold them down. Something stronger than empire, however, re-emerged in the hearts and minds of the people of Israel — namely, that spooky sense that they were called (nay, insisted upon) in the name of God. Perhaps. When the countenance of the whole community was afire with peace and justice, they radiated a confidence and an insistence that the powers of empire could neither comprehend nor squelch. They stopped being a disparate people and became a Commonwealth of Peace and Justice on the move. Their crops will be harvested in abundance; their herds will grow fat and of great number; they will be a watered garden. The women will dance and the men will sing. Their mourning will be turned to joy; they will find comfort; sorrow will be exchanged for gladness. Audacious? Absurd? Unbelievable? Spooky? Of course!
Mark 1:11-12 11 And there was a voice from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.” 12 At once the Spirit forced Jesus out into the wilderness.
[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]
When Yeshua ascended out of the baptismal waters of the Jordan, he did so with a profound sense of an insistence in the name of God. Perhaps. What had been external for Israel (the messianic hope had become the expectation of a Messiah who would “save” Israel) now had become an internal dynamic process (a personal calling, a vocational possibility requiring a response). What was unclear as Yeshua left the baptismal waters was the shape of that calling. What was the meaning of the affirmation of Yeshua as “ “dearly love[d]?” as “Son?” of “in you I find happiness?” A quantum shift had happened… Yeshua found himself half-way across a bridge that he would have to build in order for him to complete his journey… building the bridge as he walked across it. That bridge spanned human consciousness and divine mystery.
Whether Yeshua was “driven” (Mark) or “led” (Matthew and Luke) into the wilderness, whether this experience was a symbolic inner journey or a real trip into wilderness territory, it was clear that this experience was transformative — that is, Yeshua’s Self (the deep center that managed his conscious and unconscious make-up) was altered. He would never be the same again. His calling, his messianic vocation, was shaped. (Note: “messianic vocation” is quite different from “Messiah”).
The wilderness experience was one of contentious inner struggle, temptation, and choice — all leading to discernment and decisions about the nature of Yeshua’s response to that inner calling. As such, he was confronted with three seductive options: curator of a prosperity gospel, consummate public servant, and/or virtuoso charmer and magician. A fourth option (John’s expectation of an apocalyptic rebel) had been rejected by the nature of Yeshua’s experience of the God-process during his baptism. These options arose as Yeshua contended with the God-process. That contentious engagement was not unlike that of Job’s with The Satan — not the evil one, but the part of the God-process which, in freedom, raises all the possibilities (both good and bad). These options were the various hopes that Israel had projected onto the awaited Messiah. In his struggles, Yeshua discerns that he is called to a different vocation — likely messianic, but not to fulfill Israel’s hope for the Messiah. Instead of the hoped-for Messiah,Yeshua chooses to extend what he had experienced in baptism — namely, direct inner engagement with the divine mystery, first-hand personal access to the God-process, ability to perceive that unheard inner voice that call us into dynamic inter-relationship with God, self, and others.
The synchronicity of Isaiah being read in the synagogue when Yeshua is asked to read and preach, helps cement Yeshua’s new calling. The messianic vocation to which Yeshua responds is akin to that of the prophets — namely, to remind people that God invites the challenge of inner transformation and justice. Yeshua will not foment a political revolution or by herald an apocalyptic incursion of God’s power to rid the world of evil. It is to every-day situations and people that Yeshua will address himself — inviting people to find God within and then, having encountered and engaged the divine mystery within themselves, to reach out to others (especially the poor, distressed, and suffering). The reaching out is the practical definition of the commonwealth of peace and tender justice. In short, Yeshua’s mission is to tell the story of his transformation and invite people to experience a messianic transformation within themselves. The mystics and the Eastern Church call that process “divinization.”
1 John 5:1-6 1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3 For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, 4 for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. 5 Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? Testimony concerning the Son of God6 This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth
We claim that Yeshua is the Anointed One of Israel, so we seek to follow the Way that Yeshua lived and taught. In order to do that we attend to that unheard inner voice that we claim in the name of God. Perhaps. We discern the directional arrow of that calling and shape our response to resonate with the persistence of love which reaches out toward the least, the last, the lost, and the left out. The audacity of God leaves the response totally in our hands. Our audacity is to act in such a manner that God becomes a living reality in and through our response. Staying focused on that inner voice of insistence and obedient response to that calling is our testimony concerning the Anointed One of Israel. Yeshua represents what life is to be when lived fully in response to insistence in the name of God. Perhaps. We strive to live in that same Spirit.
“the pure, absolute and immutable mysteries of theology are veiled in the dazzling obscurity of the secret Silence, outshining all brilliance with the intensity of their Darkness, and surcharging our blinded intellect with the utterly impalpable and invisible fairness of glories surpassing all beauty.” – Dionysius thr Aereopagite (Peterson, 2004, Chapter 1)
The days between Christmas and the beginning of the New Year see life returning to normal after a brief glimpse into “the cloud of unknowing” (Progoff, 1989) or “the cloud of the impossible” (Keller, 2015). Christmas and its marvelous symbolic story of a baby in a manger, tells us more than all the theologies of the world. “The pure, absolute and immutable mysteries of theology” want our minds to read that scene as the birth of a baby King, the opening act of a divine kingship that will eventually over-power the kingdoms of this world and usher in an historic era ruled by the “King of kings, Lord of lords, Prince of peace.”
The Christmas story, however, actually tells a quite different story – especially when viewed under the shadow of the Cross.
The story is about a poor family, strangers in a strange place, not welcomed, shunted off to a barn for lodging and the birth of their baby. The special part of the story is that there seems to be a cosmic recognition that this birth is the beginning of a special story, affirmed by lower class day workers (shepherds). There is confusion about the significance of this event among the ruling elite and powerful – King Herod colludes to have the baby killed and the story silenced before it can begin; while foreigners (the Persian scientists) travel countless miles to celebrate with special gifts. A story is shouting to be heard above the muting din of the principalities and powers.
The significance of the story is that it foreshadows the Cross – the ultimate fate of any who try to voice a story different from that which preserves the status quo of the domination systems of the world. This Manger-to-Cross story subverts the power stories told by Rome and Temple. It subverts the story told by today’s domination systems – patriarchy, white supremacy, xenophobia, and so many more.
A cursory look at the Christian church in the United States today would likely conclude that “the dazzling obscurity of the secret Silence” regarding the original Christmas story has been maintained. A silence hidden in fancy church buildings; a story that is more often told using the pronouns “me” and “my.” This is a nation which so many people want to think of as “a Christian nation.” One might wonder, however, how much of American religion is based more on an understanding of the U.S.’s manifest destiny than on the desire to work toward the biblical vision of a commonwealth of peace and tender justice.
Howard Thurman said it best: “, when the star in the sky is gone, when the kings and princes are home, when the shepherds are back with the flock, the work of Christmas begins: to find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among people, to make music in the heart.”