The Christmas Invasion: God Behind Enemy Lines
‘Independence Day’ and ‘Avengers’ move over; we’ve already been invaded. Twice.
For those still wondering, no, we’re not alone. Both events utterly transformed human history, the first for the worse, and the second for the celestial. Eden and Bethlehem are the key points of our past.
The 1st Invasion
If you’ve ever enjoyed Scott Hahn’s series on ‘Genesis’, one of the many insights he brings to the discussion is a fresh perspective on the approach of the Serpent in Genesis. He makes the point that the word used to describe it was ‘nahash’, the same word used in Revelations to describe the seven-headed dragon crowned with horns and iron.
More than wheedling Eve into a position of moral weakness, he accentuates the Scriptural implication that Adam stood at her elbow, and did nothing as his bride-to-be was terrified into submission.
Granted, he covered a lot of ground, so I’ll sum up and you can research on your own. Essentially he pointed out that every Covenant requires a dying to self, a complete giving up and shedding of blood.
Christ on Calvary is the perfect example; Abraham’s almost-sacrifice of his son was acceptable, David’s sacrifices at the temple, Noah’s sacrifice after the Flood, etc. But with Adam and Eve, their Covenant was to be built around their trial; how would Adam handle a threat to his family, to his mission, to himself?
Ideally, he should have done what Christ would ultimately do; go out swinging and take it in the teeth. But Scripture records that he wasn’t there to defend Eve; as guardian of the Garden, he wasn’t at his post, and let the enemy in.
Abandoned, Eve fended off the serpent on her own, but made exaggerations and, well… we know the rest of the story.
Terror & Trauma
I recently read about Duns Scotus’ discussions on the Incarnation; it was God’s intent from the beginning to unite Himself with His Creation whether man had fallen or not. Discovering this opened a new paradigm in my appreciation for God’s plan and His work in our world.
It also threw a fresh perspective on Satan’s rebellion. Various schools of theological thought posit different reasons for the fall of Lucifer, but they all seem to be pretty unanimous that he hated the idea of God uniting Himself in such an intimate manner with an inferior species, or the elevation of Mary to a queenship higher than the seraphim. If you’re familiar with Chesterton’s thirst for paradox, I’m sure you’ll see God’s love of inversion at work, placing the lower before the higher.
Anyhow, in a Sauron-like manner, Satan immediately established his reign of terror over the ancient world. It was a time of hopelessness and fatality, defined by war and vengeance, broken families and broken hearts. The best dreams we could cook up in this gilt nightmare was that God would whip everything back into shape with some new, glorified Solomon.
We were used to adoring great gods and being terrified by spirits. And in launching His rescue, God didn’t want us to think of Him like that.
The Christ Child
Instead of stepping through a hole in the world with a billion angels at His beck and call, Christ began with a hearts-and-minds campaign, as a baby.
Defenceless, helpless and unable to warm or feed Himself, He threw Himself on our charity and kindness. That Christmas night, he taught the Holy Family that God is more intimate to our souls than are our hearts. He didn’t, and doesn’t want a relationship based on fear and recognition of awesome power – that’s part of it – but rather the quintessential vulnerability of holding and loving a laughing baby.
And here’s where it gets really interesting; we’ve become so familiar with Christ’s that we forget He HALO dropped under cover of night deep behind enemy lines. This universe was under the rule of the first invader, hellbent on keeping the prophecy of some future Head-Crusher impossible to fulfill.
Within weeks of his birth, a hint of his arrival sent Herod into a panic, and lashed out with a massacre of all local infants. The World Savior was wrapped up and shuttled into Egypt, ancestral home of the Hebrew’s greatest enemy and temptation.
At the time that Christ began His earthly ministry, it’s fascinating to note that at the same time, a number of other ‘Messiahs’ were running around rallying the people to their cause. Athronges, Judas of Gamala, Theudas, the Samaritan, and the Egyptian are recorded, and against them the eagled might of Rome fell like a ton of bricks. Rome would tolerate no uprisings against her authority.
The Jews expected something a little more complex than a military deliverer. Brant Pitre’s book on ‘Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist’ shows that they were expecting a second Exodus, a reclaiming of the lost ten tribes of Israel, the inauguration of a New Heaven and a New Earth that would wipe away the former in place of the new. For all intents and purposes, they expected a Ragnarok, an Apocalypse that would change the world forever.
It’s effectively what they got. But not how they imagined it.
Hearts & Minds – Secretly
Here’s where I’m begging historians and scripture scholars to help me clarify this thesis, because it throws a new paradigm on Christ’s three years in ministry. Effectively, Christ kept His Divinity hidden from everyone, devils included, up until ‘His Hour had come’, the sacrifice of Calvary. He knew what Rome’s response would be – and it ultimately was – so He worked undercover, as much as possible, as a travelling rabbi preaching a transfigurative code of ethics, and fulfilling the miracles expected of the true Messiah.
It all sounds very hearts-and-minds; healing the sick, raising the dead, feeding the hungry, saving the innocent, redeeming the wicked, confusing the intelligent, defending the rights of the poor, inviting the rich to responsibility and charity, advocating freedom from materialism, inverting the expected order of rewards and punishments with a Heavenly paradigm.
Each time an exorcised demon was extracted, Christ seems to have shut it down from proclaiming His divinity. There are only a handful of times in Scripture where men recognize it, and it seems that people weren’t entirely sure who He was – perhaps a revived Elijah, or the ghost of John the Baptist.
Toward the end of His ministry, he pulled out the stops and made it clearer and clearer that He was the Son of God, a claim backed up by three years of stunning miracles, sending the religious hierarchy into a feeding frenzy. What happened was what He expected, and perhaps had been avoiding all along, Rome’s swift – if confused – response in executing Him, and rooting through Jerusalem for His disciples.
But He’d established three years of daily contact with the individual person, and spread an antitode to the snake venom that kept us closed to Heaven. It took the coming of Pentecost to implant the fire of Heaven in the apostles hearts. Mindless of the outcome, they rushed to spread the news to an abashed populace, who responded with instant and eager conversion.
The second invasion had worked its effect. Christianity flooded out into the world, racing along Rome’s hard-earned order and infrastructure, man’s greatest contribution toward a good order, however short of the ideal. Stamping it out pushed it farther, executions spread it like wildfires, torture converted the torturers. It had an unbelievable effect, because it created an unbelievable world.
For those who lived it, it brought freedom. Freedom from the weakness of self, freedom from surrounding brokenness in families and faults, freedom from oppressors, freedom from a fatalistic future. Christ restored the primacy of the individual’s freedom and ability to directly respond to God, that although joined to a cosmic body of believers through the person of Jesus Christ, at the same time remained absolutely free to make a choice. He did not change the world, but He changed our ability to respond to the world.
If there’s anything any dictator hates the most, its the power of the individual choice, it’s free will.
It’s been a messy history since, and it will be till the end because of these two kingdoms St. Augustine wrote of, the Kingdom of the World and God always at war with each other. We’re in the crossfire, but we’re not alone. Christ became one of us so that He could transform all of us into Him. And that’s the role of His Church here and now, and why we evangelize to begin with.
Christianity doesn’t just promise future happiness, but that that happiness can be attained right now in the middle of our fevered anxiety and angst. His Church brings us seven sacraments, each one with the unbelievable power to induct us back into the Godhead, to re-open God’s divine life in us every time we lose it.
Arkhimandrite Tikhon’s book ‘Everyday Saints and Other Stories’ chronicles the heroic and hilarious endurance of Orthodox monks under a century of Communism. Some of those thrown into stalags found their silver lining; they had yearned for lives of labor, penitence and prayer, and now they had it. They transformed their gulags into convents.
The ball’s in our court now.
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