Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas, hope & history

I remember reading Moltmann's Theology of Hope back in 2003 with Byron Smith, Andrew Katay, Murray Smith, Matheson Russell and Rob Forsyth (how's that for name dropping? - my contribution was to refresh the tea). I was delighted and moved by his representation of the historical nature of faith. Faith takes up the contradiction between the resurrection and a world which puts up with death.
That is why faith, wherever it develops into hope, causes not rest but unrest, not patience but impatience.... Those who hope in Christ can no longer put up with reality as it is, but begin to suffer under it, to contradict it. Peace with God means conflict with the world, for the goad of the promised future stabs inexorably into the flesh of every unfulfilled present. (p.8)

The promise of God is what creates history. Israel, like Christians, lived in a world where time was sanctified 'in the cyclic recurrence of the epiphany of the gods in the times of festival' (p.85).  But for Israel, the significance of the appearance of God was found in the promise contained in the revelation.
Its effect is that the hearers of the promise become incongruous with the reality around them, as they strike out in hope to the promised new future.... The sense and purposes of his 'appearances' lies not in themselves, but in the promise and its future. (p.87)

Every year, we celebrate Christmas, just as every year, the pagans held feasts in honour of their gods. The difference, however, is that our God came once in flesh, and will come once more - our celebrations, therefore, are not mere recurring markers in an unending cycle, but marks on a ruler. They do not merely represent the rhythm of life, but the rhythm of the expansion joints beneath the wheels of a train, on its way somewhere.

One great danger of church in the late-modern world, of course, is that we keep the celebrations and empty them of their narrative, their sense of history as a story unfolding. Christ becomes an epiphany of our social gods to visit us and instill good cheer. Another, corresponding danger is that we keep the narrative and lose our celebrations. We can come to think that this history is ours to make, rather than celebrate. We can forget that the promise has already been made which makes the present unbearable.

1 comment:

Katie said...

I'm sure you made great tea!!