The quiet period between Christmas and the new year offers time for reflection on all that we have experienced in these holy days. Hopefully we have connected with family and friends and have found ways to remember those less well connected. Above all, I trust that we have taken time to remember God's mercy in providing for us a Savior. Yet, as much as we would like to avoid this truth, the redemption of God is not without scandal. All the glowing light of the season cannot take away the darkness of suffering.
The readings for the first Sunday after Christmas remind us of costly sacrifice--on the part of God and on the part of humanity. Isaiah 63:7-9 voices the communal lament of a weary people: will God remember us now and save us through abiding with us as holy presence? The cry of the desolate is met by divine silence. No comforting resolution is forthcoming, for the people of covenant have not returned to faithful living. The Gospel reading speaks of divine providence in rescuing the Jesus child, but at the expense of other little toddling Behelehem children (Matthew 2:13-23). This text is one of the main reasons Frank Tupper writes of a "scandalous providence." The Epistle reading from Hebrews recounts how the pioneer of human salvation became "perfect through sufferings" (Hebrews 2:10). Hence, Jesus is not ashamed to be linked with us who share the same flesh and blood, protesting as we do when we feel forsaken. (The early church readily applied the whole of Psalm 22 to Jesus, as a footnote in The New Interpreters' Study Bible (p. 2156) informs.
What are we to make of these anguished texts, so full of salvific promise and so laden with pathos? At the least, these texts suggest that God uses the groaning processes of this world in the long arc of redemption. Evil human machinations are part of the complicated means God uses to achieve divine purposes. Yes, a promised Savior has been born; yet his life will be surrounded by scandal. First, there was that conception out of wedlock; a crude birthing room; birth announcement by shepherds (the angels had returned into heaven); strange visitors from the East; and, finally, a threat to his life that made immigrants of his parents. Ultimately he will die a most humiliating death and, from his sacrifice, redemption will flow.
As Christians we cannot avoid the shadow side of our narrative of salvation. The mercy of our God shows up in the most scandalous of circumstances--if we have eyes to see. Because our Savior "was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested" (Hebrews 2:18). In this we find great hope as well as a mirror for the reality of the tragic we all endure.
Molly T. Marshall
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