Advent Firesiders

Father (2008)

We all keep saying it. We all denounce the anthropocentric notion of the patriarchal old man with the long beard, sitting on a cloud, separating their sheep from the goats, or something like that. Simply in terms of what Jesus says of himself, Matthew clearly doesn't know what he's on about.

So here we have this frightening old man who behaves like something between a judge handing out sentences and a bank manager checking the state of our account which got so bad at some point that he sent his son to settle it in the nastiest conceivable way.

Now I know it's in bad taste to refer to the Crucifixion when our minds should be stayed on the incarnation but if we misunderstand the Cross we're not likely to get the crib right. Remember, this fearsome old man is supposed to be love itself and to have done everything out of love which makes everything easier except the Crucifixion; but if we see that as a triumph of love over violence we can therefore see that the only way that could have been accomplished was through its actually being accomplished, not through some divine doctrinal pronouncement denouncing human violence. Now if we go back to the incarnation, we can see that it, too, was love's necessity which calls for a different mindset to deal with The Father. The problem for us is that if we get all this theology sorted out from the "God is love" starting point it makes most of our iconography look silly, or at least muddled; what has that rather fearsome old fellow on the cloud got to do with love? And how can he be benign if he sent the poor child down here to settle some arcane account by allowing himself to be tortured and killed to fulfil some rather dicey pronouncements in the Old Covenant?

The first objective of our Advent contemplation, then, should be to get The Father into a much sharper, more accurate focus. He, the creator, made us out of love for the purpose of pleasing him, not for some terribly deep theological reason - reasons are never deep, only feelings are - but because, like human creators, it was in his nature, it was something he had to do; but he can only do it in love and, having made us to love he could only help us back into relationship with him by sending a human person of perfect divine love. Nobody asked, really. The Jews vaguely hoped for a Messiah, a Christ, but not the sort that Jesus would turn out to be. The Jews weren't asking for a working class radical to save them; so God just did what he did because - to parody Bishop Tom Butler - that's what he does.

So, one purpose of advent is to get God's love into focus so that it helps us to ground the incarnation in our earthly perception; it is only then that we will come to understand Jesus.