In Honest Advent this morning, Scott Erickson reminds us “If you live long enough, your life will begin and end with someone wiping your butt. Form vulnerability to vulnerability we live…that is to say, weakness will be a companion throughout our lives. It will take different forms at various stages of development, but the irony is that it may come full circle at the end with bowel management.”
I Finish the reading, but not my coffee, have an early morning zoom meeting with friends and piddle around the house.
Is that the mailman…this early?
Upon investigating the noise at the door, I discover that the post has indeed arrived. With it comes a handful of gag-gifts from Archie McPhee and a graphic novel that just released this August by Evan Dahm entitled “the Harrowing of Hell”.
The taped box isn’t larger than a football. I easily slice down its top seam with an open pair of scissors. Snap, one half of the cardboard lid breaks open. There’s still a little bit of tape on the ends after cutting but with guns like these, they succumb to my brute force. Now for the other side. I reach down to repeat the maneuver and rather than snapping, the tape stretches and yawns wider without releasing its grip from the cardboard. Bemused I let out a barely audible “W” snicker…”Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice…well…what I’m saying is YOU AIN’T GONNA FOOL ME LITTLE BOX” I double my effort and…the tape just stretches further. Defeated, I grab the scissors and just cut it.
I wrestle open the package containing bacon flavored candy canes, a pair of black socks licked by red flames that read “Hell is other people”, a bendable figure with grimaced countenance called Mr. Sour Pickle and a few other items. I jostle a fist bump a la Trump rally and mouth the words “Thank-you, Thank-You” pointing to my dog who sits quietly at my feet wondering if this is a treat box.
I pick up the graphic novel and thumb its pages having no idea what to expect from this artist. It opens with the familiar interrogation scene. Jesus is standing before Pilate. The Roman governor is trying to engage Jesus but the answers coming back, if any, are all short enough to give the impression that Jesus is not convinced reasoning with his interlocutor will be fruitful. Pilate trying to ascertain whether this one his followers call King is a threat asks Jesus, “Your followers…have they a single sword among them?” “No?... just peasants and fisherman…I see…no one names thee King then”. Pleased as punch, he dismisses Jesus finding no fault with him. As if a second thought Pilate mumbles, “On the other hand, you did claim Kingship and that’s treason”…off to a cross you go.
In the estimation of this Roman authority, Jesus can’t be much of a threat. He has no army, no weapons, his followers… mere fisherman. Yet, his devotees call him “Mighty God”. Not your typical penchant for mightiness here. Where’s his flex, be they bulging muscles or rapier wit. Why doesn’t Jesus let loose and overcome this mortal governor.
If Jesus is indeed the image of the invisible God, then what is he putting on display?
Erickson, pondering this same question says “Jesus is MIGHTY not because of his capacity to overcome hardship but because of His WILLINGNESS to go through HUMAN HARDSHIP, like we have to do.”
“Light from Light, True God from True God,” as the Creed declares, had his butt-wiped for him as an infant. ”The Only begotten, of the same essence as the Father” knows what human death on a cross is. Jesus has tasted something human that not even I have faced! He is more human than I am.
Cue the scene-
Jodie Foster as Eleanor Arroway in the movie Contact is seated before an unconvinced senate committee, desperate to convey what happened on her failed interstellar mission:
“I was given something wonderful, something that changed me forever... A vision of the universe that tells us, undeniably, how tiny, and insignificant and how... rare, and precious we all are! A vision that tells us that we belong to something that is greater than ourselves, that we are not... that none of us are alone!”
We are not alone…none of us. God has put on our flesh and moved close. He joins us in messy fleshly existence. He is well acquainted with our grief. He knows the suffering fragility of a human body dying.
Over the centuries the Church has had arguments with those outside AND inside the bonds of her communion. One such argument was over the separate but linked issues of Jesus’ humanity and divinity.
Gregory of Nazianzus, a Greek speaking Christian of the 4th century said of Christ’s humanity, “What has not been assumed has not been healed”. He said this to other Christians who had trouble confessing that Jesus was fully human like us. Gregory argued that God took on all that we are in his incarnation, so that he could heal us. So that we sin-sick less-than-humans could become like Jesus…fully human. We need a transformed mind through encounter with Christ, the savior of the world.
Erickson closes the daily reading, “ Could it be that the doorway to experiencing God-with-us this Advent is the particular vulnerability we find ourselves facing? Whether it’s in health, heart, or home, our lives will always have a particular vulnerability to them-- from butt wiping to butt wiping. May we not see this vulnerability as the place of failure because of our inability to overcome it, but as the very invitation to partner with Mighty God through it.”
5 Let the same mind be in you that was[a] in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.
- Philippians 2:5-8 NRSV