“Apart from the Incarnation, we would never fully know the depths to which we are loved or the lengths to which God can be trusted. That’s why we celebrate each Christmas.”

~Advent Conspiracy

This struck me as so true, at least for me.  It is so easy for me to slip into that habit of imagining God as distant, the prime mover sort of God, the watchmaker who set things in motion and then wandered off.  Thinking of the Word being made flesh, of Love walking among us, reminds me that God is here.  Always.   Hmmm… I can trust God?  God loves me that much?  God has a plan?   How quickly I forget.

This reminds me, too, that Christmas is also the precursor to Easter, that I so easily and quickly move from kneeling in the stable to standing amongst the raging crowd calling out “Crucify him!”  

The Incarnation is beautiful, but it is also a holy terror.  There is no Christmas without Easter.  John Milton opens his 1629 “Nativity Ode” with a verse of celebration:

This is the Month, and this the happy morn
Wherein the Son of Heav’ns eternal King,
Of wedded Maid, and Virgin Mother born,
Our great redemption from above did bring;
For so the holy sages once did sing,
That he our deadly forfeit should release,
And with his Father work us a perpetual peace.

But he stops himself about 100 lines later:

But wisest Fate sayes no,
This must not yet be so,
The Babe lies yet in smiling Infancy,
That on the bitter cross
Must redeem our loss;
So both himself and us to glorifie:
Yet first to those ychain’d in sleep,
The wakefull trump of doom must thunder through the deep…

And so right now, at Advent, I am remembering not only why Jesus was born but why he had to die.  Let us celebrate the innocent beauty of Christmas but give due reverence to the terrible beauty of Easter.  So, an Easter poem:

7 Stanzas at Easter

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that–pierced–died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

~ John Updike