O Emmanuel

“O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people, come and set us free, Lord our God.” (O Antiphon for Dec 23rd)

The sequence of antiphons this week culminates today in what is one of the most outrageous claims ever made.

I was reading someone not too long ago who was speaking of the dangers that have historically been encountered whenever believers try to shift the focus of Christianity from the Passion/Resurrection to the Incarnation. Though the details escape me at this point, I recall it being a compelling read. But the tendency it criticized, if we can call it that, is also one that I am sympathetic to.

Part of that sympathy comes from the simple fact that the Passion & Resurrection take their distinctive character from the fact of the Incarnation – in other words, that they are dependent on it for their own ontological meaning. But it is also because the doctrine of the Incarnation is just so wildly exhilarating. The idea that the Creator becomes part of (and hence one with) His creation is mind-boggling, and casts a glow of sacredness and goodness over the whole creation – especially over the human race. Words would fail to describe what it would be to stand in the presence of the God-man.

We live in a world infatuated with celebrity. We put our faith in celebrities to save us from whatever it is we think concerns us. The news outlets are all atwitter day & night over disasters poised to overtake sports heroes and movie stars and other glitterati. Well, there goes the joy, for sure. Court jesters and talent-poor troubadours bask in glory as they lead social movements to eliminate unwanted human beings while saving the polar ice caps. The leader of the free world gets elected on charm and charisma, at best…

And to think that there once was a man born who was actually worthy of this kind of adulation. And to think that, through the Passion and resurrection, he is with us still, inviting us to partake of himself in Communion.

Embracing the Incarnation without the Passion might lead us to utopianism, but we shouldn’t lose our wonder and astonishment at the birth of God in a stable – and we sure shouldn’t be ready to trade the real deal for the cheap imitation of celebrity.