A reading and reflection for Tuesday, December 25, 2012.
The Feast of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ.
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In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
What is the incarnation like? To what shall we compare it? It is like a waterfall thundering into a teacup or it a whirlwind spinning in a thimble. The incarnation is like a flashmob.
Wait, what? A flashmob? Those silly things where people "randomly" join together to sing or play some piece of popular music in a public location? Yeah, that.
I've probably watched the Som Sabadell flashmob (embedded above) thirty times this Advent. I find myself moved to tears often while watching it and I'm not sure why. Is it the children pretending to conduct? Is it the crowd that is so attentive? Is it the wide range of instruments coming out of nowhere in this square? Or is it simply Beethoven's masterwork that draws me into profundity? As an exercise this Christmas, I started to consider why this video, unlike most others of its kind, seems to move me toward a deeper understanding of the Incarnation.
I think the most significant part of this video is the fact that this glorious piece was played in a city square, with most of the players in conventional, everyday attire. The immediate profundity of their musicianship was masked by their choice to be in "streetclothes." Who were these people? What are they doing? Similarly, when God elected to come among us in our flesh, he also elected a humble birth. Born not to princes or kings or rulers, born not in palaces or concert halls or temples, the incarnation happened in the city square, with a baby wearing nothing but a linen cloth.
There's a shot early on of a man walking in one direction, but turning sharply to see what is going on with these musicians. I love it. It's like when the shepherds said: "Let us go see this thing which the Lord revealed to us." They couldn't not check it out. This guy in the video can't not stay and watch this event.
Another element of this video I absolutely adore are the shots (and there are several) of the children trying to conduct along with the conductor. Jesus said the kingdom of God belongs to "such as these", and the responsibility we have to invite and nurture children means that we get to watch them try to get a handle on who Jesus is. We get to encourage them to "conduct," laughing with them as they do their best to get their little minds around the glory that is God's presence in Christ. The joy in their faces in the video as they dance and move along with this song seems symbolic of the fact that in our practices as Christians, we provide a space for children to joyfully dance and playfully conduct this ongoing encounter with God's presence.
Two other related shots are powerful. In one, one person is teaching another how to understand the rhythm of the piece by modeling for her the beat and tempo. This is the lowercase "e" evangelical nature of our Christian faith. We teach one another how to appropriate this event of God's coming amongst us, we spread the news, we tell one another through our actions and our words what it means that God is with us. And by doing this, by spreading the good news, we are helping a new generation of people learn how to conduct this song.
In the other shot, a woman is caught on camera mouthing the words to Beethoven's "Ode to Joy", the piece being played here. I love her expression. It's like she's saying: "I knew this once, now I'm trying to find my way back into it." Basic Christian theology would say that all of us have traces of God's image upon us, leftovers from the first creation of the first humans. There's something inherent to being human that makes us perceptive of God, that makes us sensitive to God's voice. While sin and the fall of humanity into its clutches has drastically reduced this sensitivity, we still believe that God's spirit can assist us to once again hear God's voice. When this occurs, we might say: "I knew this once, now I'm trying to find my way back into it."
The climax of the video, of course, is the concluding bit where a full, trained choir magnificently sings the final movement of this piece, accompanied by a now-full orchestra. Indeed, it is this part that I equate most strongly with the incarnation. The whole progression of the piece above is headed for this climactic conclusion. Similarly, from the fall of humanity, the whole progression of God's relationship with our world has headed toward incarnation, toward the day when God will walk among us and he will be our God and we will be his people. The majesty of this moment in the video is not reduced in the slightest by the players not wearing tuxedos and gowns or the fact that it's on a street corner and not in a concert hall. Similarly, the fact that God came among us as a baby born in a farming town to a couple of peasants takes nothing away from the glory of the union of God and human flesh. If you have eyes to see and ears to hear, you can see a baby laying in a manger as Emmanuel, God with us.
What happens after this video is over? The crowd applauds and disperses and is left with the lingering notes of that song in their head. Should they hear it again in a mall or on a CD, they will remember this moment, where they stood, what they were doing when the flashmob played. It is seared in their minds. Our encounter with Christ, the incarnate God, leaves an indelible mark upon our hearts and our lives. It changes us. We can't possibly be the same after such an encounter.
Today, on this feast of the Nativity, may God make Christ known to you in such a way that you are changed. From the inside out, from the heart to your head to all the places in between. May you come to experience the peace which only Christ offers, peace that flows from that manger in Bethlehem, peace that orchestrates newfound acts of compassion and grace in your life. Peace be with you this Christmas.