Advent through the centuries: the nineteenth century

Thursday, December 19, 2013
The nineteenth century of the Church.

Scripture:
Isaiah 40:1-11

“Comfort, comfort my people,”
says your God.
“Speak kindly to Jerusalem, and tell her
that her time of warfare is over,
that her punishment is completed.
For the Lord has made her pay double for all her sins.”
A voice cries out,
“In the wilderness clear a way for the Lord;
construct in the desert a road for our God.
Every valley must be elevated,
and every mountain and hill leveled.
The rough terrain will become a level plain,
the rugged landscape a wide valley.
The splendor of the Lord will be revealed,
and all people will see it at the same time.
For the Lord has decreed it.”
A voice says, “Cry out!”
Another asks, “What should I cry out?”
The first voice responds: “All people are like grass,
and all their promises are like the flowers in the field.
The grass dries up,
the flowers wither,
when the wind sent by the Lord blows on them.
Surely humanity is like grass.
The grass dries up,
the flowers wither,
but the decree of our God is forever reliable.”
Go up on a high mountain, O herald Zion!
Shout out loudly, O herald Jerusalem!
Shout, don’t be afraid!
Say to the towns of Judah,
“Here is your God!”
Look, the sovereign Lord comes as a victorious warrior;
his military power establishes his rule.
Look, his reward is with him;
his prize goes before him.
Like a shepherd he tends his flock;
he gathers up the lambs with his arm;
he carries them close to his heart;
he leads the ewes along.

Reading:

Søren Kierkegaard, in Philosophical Fragments, 1844. A different type of reading today, and a bit of a longer one.

Suppose there was a king who loved a humble maiden and whose heart was unaffected by the wisdom that is so often loudly preached. (…) Let then the harp be tuned. Let the songs of the poets begin. Let everyone be festive, while love celebrates its triumph. For love is over-joyed when it unites equals, but it is triumphant when it makes equal that which was unequal. Let the king’s love reign!

But then there arose a sadness in the king’s soul. Who would have dreamed of such a thing except a king with royal thoughts! He spoke to no one about his sadness. Had he done so, each courtier would doubtless have said, “Your Majesty, you are doing the girl a generous favor for which she could never thank you enough.” This, however, would no doubt have aroused the king’s wrath and, in turn, caused the king even more sorrow. Therefore he wrestled with the sorrow in his heart. Would the maiden really be happy? Would she be able to forget what the king wished to forget, namely, that he was the king and she a former lowly maiden? For if this happened, if the memory of her former state awoke within her, and like a favored rival, stole her thoughts away from the king, alluring her into the seclusion of a secret grief; or if this memory at times crossed her soul like death crossing over a grave – where then would the glory of their love be? She would have been happier had she remained in obscurity, loved by one of her own kind.

And even if the maiden were content to be as nothing, the king would never be satisfied, simply because he loved her so. He would much rather lose her than be her benefactor. What deep sorrow there is slumbering in this unhappy love! Who dares to rouse it?

Who grasps the contradiction of this sorrow: not to disclose itself is the death of love; to disclose itself is the death of the beloved. It was God’s longing to prevent this. The unity of love will have to be brought about in some other way. If not by way of elevation, of ascent, then by a descent of the lowest kind. God must become the equal of the lowliest. But the lowliest is one who serves others. God therefore must appear in the form of a servant. But this servant’s form is not merely something he puts on, like the beggar’s cloak, which, because it is only a cloak, flutters loosely and betrays the king. No, it is his true form. For this is the unfathomable nature of boundless love, that it desires to be equal with the beloved; not in jest, but in truth. And this is the omnipotence of resolving love, deciding to be equal with the beloved.

Look, then, there he stands – God! Where? There! Don’t you see him? He is the God, and yet he has no place to lay his head, and he does not dare to turn to any person lest that person be offended at him. It is sheer love and sheer sorrow to want to express the unity of love and then to not be understood.

God suffers all things, endures all things, is tried in all things, hungers in the desert, thirsts in his agonies, is forsaken in death, and became absolutely the equal of the lowliest of human beings – look, behold the man! He yields his spirit in death, on a cross, and then leaves the earth. Oh bitter cup! More bitter than wormwood is the ignominy of death for a mortal. How must it be, then, for the immortal one! Oh bitter refreshment, more sour than vinegar – to be refreshed by the beloved’s misunderstanding! Oh consolation in affliction to suffer as one who is guilty – what must it be, then, to suffer as one who is innocent!

God is not zealous for himself but out of love wants to be equal with the most lowly of the lowly. What power! When an oak seed is planted in a clay pot, the pot breaks; when new wine is poured into old wineskins, they burst. What happens, then, when God the king plants himself in the frailty of a human being? Does he not become a new person and a new vessel! Oh, this becoming – how difficult it really is, and how like birth itself! How terrifying! It is indeed less terrifying to fall upon one’s face, while the mountains tremble at God’s voice, than to sit with him in love as his equal. And yet God’s longing is precisely to sit in this way.

Herz Jesu Bild, by Gabriel Wüger und Lukas Steiner, 1873 or 74.
Herz Jesu Bild, by Gabriel Wüger und Lukas Steiner, 1873 or 74.

Prayer:
Nineteenth century prayer from the Scottish Highlands.

I give thanks that I have risen again today and to the great rising of life itself …
As the sun brightens up the sky and earth, may my soul be bright with gratitude
for all the good things in my life, may I be generous in sharing these with others.

I give thanks that I have risen again today and to the great rising of life itself …
As the trees, rivers, animals and everything sing their songs of life, may my soul
sing the song of my heart, may I sing it gladly whether in joy or in sorrow,
and may it help me find humour and laughter in the day.

I give thanks that I have risen again today and the great rising of life itself …
As the sun crosses the sky to where it will set in the west, may my soul proceed
on its journey through life, may I keep the vision of my life ever before me,
and may I have faith that my life has meaning.

I give thanks that I have risen again today and the great rising of life itself …
As everything in nature strives to live and survive, may my soul me strong in its struggles,
may I meet adversity with courage and hope.

I give thanks that I have risen again today and to the great rising of life itself …
As the earth spreads out from me to the horizon, may my soul expand to embrace it,
may I speak the truth of the land, and take responsibility for my life.

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