Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Fourth Sunday of Advent, 18 December 1022

The stained-glass windows in the sanctuary at Urbana First United Methodist church portray successive scenes from the life of Christ, beginning with his birth and ending with the Apocalyptic image of Christ enthroned as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. One of the functions of the season of Advent is to give christians time to contemplate the mystery of God’s sovereign self choosing the humiliation of becoming incarnate in the most helpless of all creatures: a socially marginalized infant.

In 2008, Lucy Bregman invited readers of Homily Service to join her in reflecting upon the paradox of power inherent in the incarnation.
The power of Jesus the king will be of an utterly different kind from Herod’s - but he will still be a world-ruler as well as world-savior. Spiritual power is real power, in other words. Even though the only crown Jesus ever literally wore was the crown of thorns, he is still eternal king.

This strand of Jesus’ identity fell under such a heavy weight of criticism in the last century, it may be difficult for us to retrieve. For Bonhoeffer, “God is weak in the world,” and all images of power, sovereignty, and divine rule are suspect. “We should not worship the executioner,” cried Dorothy Söelle, meaning any God who mimics the power of the state of life and death. Were these views to hold sway, “Jesus as king” should be utterly discarded. “Spiritual power” becomes a kind of oxymoron.

But it is not. The Gospels (and the Buddhist legend) are not as simple as this. There are different kinds of power; there is some link between divine rule and that of humans. This fact creates a choice between two really different paths, while the total rejection of all kingship language makes this choice impossible to conceptualize at all.
As a preacher, how do you find ways to communicate the paradox of God's ultimately non-coercive power?

Homily Service, 14 December 2008, vol. 42 issue 1, p.38.
Lucy Bregman, professor of religion at Temple University, is the author of several books including Death and Dying. Spirituality and Religions. She is a member of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Norwood, Pennsylvania.

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