7 Dec 2014
“Get you up to a high mountain O Zion, herald of good things, … Say to the cities of Judah, ‘Here is your God.’” (Isa. 40:9) In the name …
Last Sunday afternoon Sharon and I drove Amanda back to college in New Hampshire. Before dropping her off we stopped at a little tavern in the center of town for dinner. I like to sit at the bar whenever possible. Only had a hot cup of tea, but I like to sit at the bar. After we ate, I’m putting my coat on and as we’re getting ready to leave I say to Sharon, “O.K., let’s go get rid of the kid.” The bartender overheard this comment and said something along the lines of, “Oh, isn’t that nice.” I’m pretty sure she thought I was joking, but she couldn’t know for sure because she didn’t know us.
Now let me talk about tomorrow’s Feast of Divine Love because surprisingly this story has a lot to do with it, and Divine Love has a lot to do with Advent. Isaiah is perfect for Advent. Today we hear that prophet tell the Chosen People to boldly proclaim “Here is your God.” That’s the basics of Advent right there in those few words. So that the world may prepare for Christmas, Advent has us proclaim “Here is your God.” The mystery and power of Christmas is that God empties Himself of His divinity (Philippians 2:7) so that in Jesus God can firsthand experience our lives and our world as we do. Of Jesus it is said in the New Testament: “He had to become like [us] in every respect…” (Hebrews 2:17) This means that our human nature is Jesus’ human nature. If there’s any difference in this respect between you and Jesus, me and Jesus, then we’re not being faithful to the biblical revelation.
This is one of the fundamental reasons why our church celebrates the Feast of Divine Love on December 8th, tomorrow. Somehow in the Fourth Century Augustine convinced the church to start talking about original sin. This is the notion that we are inherently sinful simply because of our human nature. According to Augustine’s story, Adam and Eve sinned and this corrupted their souls. When they had children, they passed along not only their physical DNA, but also their spiritual DNA – their children were born sinners. And this continues through every single generation of human history. There are so many problems with this story that it all can’t be discussed in a ten minute sermon. First of all, you would have to believe in the reality of Adam and Eve, the Garden of Eden, the talking serpent, the tree of life, the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and that all of this happened only 6,000 years ago. Our church has always accepted this as a teaching story. Our catechism teaches that Adam and Eve represent the first human life aware of God. Also, science and archaeology can find no evidence for a primitive paradise from which we have fallen. Instead they find evidence of originally uninhabitable, hellish conditions. Furthermore, it is the Jewish story of Genesis that tells us of Adam and Eve. We have taken it on as part of our tradition, but we should know that the Jewish people reading their own text find no cause to speak of inherited sinfulness.
And original sin destroys the purpose of Christmas, which is that in Jesus God has experienced fully our human nature. The Immaculate Conception of Mary was made-up so that she could not pass on the supposed original sin of all humans to Jesus. Mary was somehow born free of this inherited sinfulness. We don’t celebrate the Immaculate Conception because we don’t accept the notion of original sin. But say that we did teach this, then Jesus would not be like us if we were all inherently sinful and He was not, then the whole idea of God experiencing our life as we do would be erased. To make it easier to imagine, let’s change the discussion from the ethical to the physical. How could Jesus understand our human lives if He walked around with some sort of shield that protected Him from every germ, every pain, every threat or assault? He wouldn’t be us any longer, and then the whole purpose of Christmas is destroyed.
Now to finally get back to the story I started with. The bartender couldn’t know for sure if I was kidding or if I was serious when she overheard me say, “O.K., let’s go get rid of the kid.” She couldn’t know because she didn’t know us. But Advent is both Isaiah and us proclaiming: “‘Here is your God.’” As such, we tell the story of God entering our world without the separation of wealth, power or title to be with us. The child will devote Himself in word and deed to a ministry of uncompromising love and compassion for us. That child will die rather than return hatred for hatred, violence for violence because He loves us. This is what Mark this morning calls “the good news,” the gospel. This is the Jesus we have proclaimed for 2,000 years and this is the Jesus I hope we all know. Since this Jesus is the fulfillment of “‘Here is your God,’” can we honestly force upon this God the idea of our inherited sinfulness, that because of a 6,000 year old sin God still holds the child-ancestor born today as guilty.
We know a different God. Advent is about preparing for a God who will come to us at Christmas as one of us so that He can always be at one with us. Even without all of the reasons above, original sin should be rejected because that’s the message of God saying seriously, “O.K., let’s go get rid of the kid,” and I hope we know God well enough to realize this isn’t Him. This is why we celebrate instead the Feast of Divine Love. This isn’t to deny that life is far from paradise, but it still affirms that God is here. Jesus wasn’t born in Eden; He was born in an animal’s manger. Hardships and suffering and all, God is still here. May we continue to prepare for Christmas by trying to see His Divine Love in the world and the people around us, and even in each of us. For this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo