Saturday, December 22, 2007

Advent Question

Today, the 4th Sunday of Advent, is another of those grey damp winter days when I wonder again just how I make it through each year from early winter until spring. I am not unhappy about anything or suffering from a bad mood, but I feel the familiar longing for green and the fragrance of growing things. I know that winter will seem to stretch on for a long time and that the waiting will be a challenge, as it always is.

The weary waiting is timely, however because it serves to remind me all over again of the spirit of Advent. If our culture had not taken the Advent season and turned it into one long string of frenzied partying, we would all have a better sense of the solumness of waiting for that which we hope for but cannot see, much as Isreal did before Christ's birth. In some ways, January and February might be a better illustration of that historical time, for in those months the tiresomeness of winter really sets in and we all long for the changes of spring, though they seem so far off. At least I feel that way. It is in those months, and perhaps even more importantly now during the season's glitz and distracton, that I must make the choice to look for signs of God and the joy they bring.

The exercise of looking and seeking is one I come back to over and over in my writings and I was reminded of its importance, once again, during yesterday's morning walk. It was also a grey, damp chilly day... one in which the matted grasses, dried meadow plants, the soggy ground and the dripping trees were all various shades of brown and the sky was overcast and heavy. Not the most joyous of mornings from all appearances, but still one to be out and walking. As I approached the overgrown streamside, movement down in the vegetation caught my eye and the more I looked, the more I discovered. Buffy brownish Song and White-Throated Sparrows were literally everywhere, though they blended into the vegetation so completely that without their movement giving them away they were almost invisible. Little grey Juncos flitted along the road's shoulder and stately White-Crowned Sparrows made their way through the grasses while from overhead came the sound of Downy Woodpeckers and White-Breasted Nuthatches tapping the tree trunks for insects. These are the times, standing still and drinking in the life around me, that see me through the winter though, truth-be-told, every year I seem to forget for a while.

It was while I was watching and listening to the birds and thinking about the goldenrod in front of me that the discussion from my last post came to mind, and so my Advent question. Sometimes my mind seems to travel along two tracks at the same time and this was one of those moments. As I was thinking about the goldenrod's roots and basal crown being alive through the winter though the stalk is clearly dead, I was also thinking about Jesus' dying and the discussion of Him being the only example within Creation of death and subsequent living beyond death. And now I am wondering...Jesus was the mysterious combination of being God and man and clearly the human part of Jesus died at Calvary. But what about the God part, for lack of a more sophisticated way of expressing it? Did God that was in Jesus live on through the human death, as the goldenrod roots live on though the stalk dies? When we talk about Jesus' death, do we actually mean just the human side of Him? Somehow the answer to the question seems to matter, though I'm not sure just why. I hope that you who are wiser than I might enter into the thinking and into the discussion.

In the meantime, I hope for all who are fellow-waiters, that your Advent will be filled with moments of seeking and of finding signs of life and of God.


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I can do this in 300 words, but the ontology of Jesus is the philosophical issue. What is his nature?. He is both God and man, and the two aren't separated. Did God die? I'm not a death of God theologian. What I am is one who thinks the Bible teaches that when Jesus rose it was the beginning and the hope of new life beyond death for all people who trust Jesus. I don't think we need to know the ontological issue of Jesus. What we need to know is how we gain hope when Jesus, bearing our sins, rose from the dead.
So, short answers are rarely profound, so perhaps we can hone this one.

Joe Kearns said...

A "first impression" answer, now when I should be cleaning up the living room for coming guests!...
This question goes to the heart of the question, what is the deep nature of a particular thing or person? Your question seems to me to assume a separability of Jesus' nature into two parts, human and divine. I am not sure one can so separate a nature. Jesus was both man and God, wholly. He, as a whole being, suffered torture and death. Therefore God suffered death. I am not so sure about "parts"...I don't understand a triune personal nature to start with, so I am rather certain that my conception of what happened to the "second person" of the Trinity...whatever that means (I cannot wrap my head around it, I don't doubt its truth)can only be mistaken at any number of points, and I can't even know what those points might be...
I don't think Jesus ceased to exist at his death; he remained a human, now a deceased human, and underwent whatever transformations of existence a human undergoes when his body ceases to function. What is Sheol? We moderns have rather dropped that concept, without (from what I can see) any Biblical warrant to do so. Is it metaphorical or actual? I don't know.
A deeper mystery even than the death of Jesus' body might be the forsakenness of God by God on the cross. I cannot comprehend that either.
But, to answer directly. I think God suffered death on the cross, but neither Jesus' human nature nor his divine nature ceased to exist, because death is not a ceasing-to-exist. So God did die, but death is not a ceasing but a separation; body from spirit (physical death) and spirit from God (spiritual death). Jesus suffered both. Man suffered both; God suffered both. From eternity to eternity. He is, was and always will be the Lamb that was slain "before the foundation of the eath".
Hope this makes some sense!

Joe Kearns said...

Some more thoughts on your Advent question...
Your thoughts, Ann, seemed to light upon the concept of "living through" the darkness and the apparent death. Though as I said above, I believe that all of Jesus -- his divine as well as his human aspects--died on the cross and hence God and Man both suffered death, yet both lived through it, so to speak, as will we. This death-and-resurrection pattern is there all through the Bible, even prior to Jesus' coming into history. Job's life comes to an end in every way but death, he suffers the loss of everything, sees a deeper truth thereby, and has it all restored, yet now different. Jacob goes down to Egypt and dies there, and his children descend into slavery and he is hidden in that land for 400 years, but then is gathered and remade into a great nation. That nation flourishes and becomes briefly an empire, then descends again into the darkness of idolatry and dies again in the Assyrian and Babylonia captivities. Yet again, though fruit and branch seem lost, a remnant survives and is replanted in Palestine, the city and temple are rebuilt, now chastened and purer and wiser, and blossoms again briefly before darkness again falls in the intertestamental period. They are oppressed and their "place is taken away" by Alexander, then the Seluecids and Antiochus Epiphanes, the abomination of desolation (see the books of Maccabees in the Apocrypha for snapshots of life during those times)and finally the Roman domination. Yet again, the root and stem of Jesse buds and flowers in its greatest blossoming, the coming of Messiah and the establishment of the Kingdom eternal and not (yet) of this world, the Kingdom in which we live now. Even that Kingdom has a hidden-beneath-the-ground character at this time, as it quietly insinuates its roots throughout all the nations in preparation for the final blossoming in that day when the celestial curtain rises and the New Jerusalem is revealed in her glory.
So, as C. S. Lewis said, the myths are true, in Jesus. The God/King dies and goes down to Sheol/the underworld, but returns again bringing new life. All of His creation foretells and echos this truth, that death is real but not final.

Ann said...

Bob and Joe,
Thanks for thinking and sharing. While I realize that we do not need to know all the fuzzy points about God and his ways, I have a curious mind that cannot help asking questions and I find this one intriguing.

Joe, thanks for your thoughts.
What you said about Jesus' spirit living on past death, like ours does, was something that hasn't ever occurred to me. I believe that, of course, as it applies to the rest of us and I witnessed my mom's spirit separate from her body as she died. Or rather I watched the absence of it become evident. I just never thought of Jesus' spirit in the same way.
It seems shortsighted to not have paid attention to this before. The church circles to which I have belonged focus primarily on Jesus death and resurrection as defining events without ever mentioning what may have been happening with Jesus' living spirit. In fact, it is almost as if He didn't have a spirit to live on aside from His physical body. What you wrote made a lot of sense and I want to spend more time thinking about it.
Thanks again.