Wednesday, 14 December 2016

God-with-us

‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel’,
which means, ‘God is with us.’ (Matthew 1:23)

To speak of God being with us might be good news, or bad news, depending on what we believe God’s character is like.

When Nazi troops marched into Paris in 1940, their regulation belt buckle bore the legend ‘Gott mit Uns’, God with us, and I wonder how the French felt about what that God was visiting on them? The badge of the English Defence League bears a cross, below which the Latin inscriptions translates: ‘In this sign you will conquer‘ invoking the militant power of an Anglo-Saxon warrior God.

Even people who do not espouse a political or military cause find themselves readily imagining a vengeful God. When someone encounters personal tragedy or misfortune, I find them looking for what they might have done wrong, for which this devastation is punishment, a retribution for a past sin. Or they may simply see their pain as a sign that God has brutally inflicted a tragedy or, at the very least, been asleep on the job allowing catastrophe to befall them.

The ‘Son of God’ in the world of the Christmas stories is a title for Caesar, presiding over the brutal imperial army occupying Jesus’s homeland. The Roman God-with-us means domination by brute force — a fearful God-with-us.

The stories of Christmas were written to challenge and subvert this dark idea of God’s character. Matthew’s God-with-us is hunted by a king, one who has to leave his country. Luke’s God-with-us is visited by the poorest in the neighbourhood. This is not a brutal God, this is a God alongside people who are powerless, people who have been done to, people who feel forgotten. This is the character of the God of the Christian Gospels.

Andrew Spurr is Vicar of Evesham with Norton and Lenchwick in the diocese of Worcester.


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Posted by Andrew Spurr on Wednesday, 14 December 2016 at 8:00am GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: just thinking
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Spot on

Posted by: Rosemary Hannah on Wednesday, 14 December 2016 at 7:12pm GMT

The recent discussion on another thread at TA about the creeds prompted me to think of the Creed of St Athanasius and the words therein: "The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible." These words point to the depth of our unknowing and yet we discern clearly God's love for us in our reading of scripture. It's a love we can depend on through the darkest of days.

Posted by: Pam on Wednesday, 14 December 2016 at 8:39pm GMT

Excellent. Personally I believe that 'Emmanuel' is the heart of the gospel, but as Andrew points out, that's dependent on what we believe God to be like!

Posted by: Tim Chesterton on Wednesday, 14 December 2016 at 11:09pm GMT

There is way too much emphasis on the 'vengeance' of God. This can lead to an odd heretical understanding of disasters occurring in the natural world. New Zealand's recent earthquakes were announced by the local N.Z. 'Destiny Church' as a sign of God's displeasure with Same-Sex Marriage and the "sexual sins of the South Island people" (as though they were any more sinful than those in the north Island!)

This 'cod-theology' leads to people no longer believing in the God such churches espouse. What seems to have been forgotten is that "God SO LOVED the world". He never hated it!

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Thursday, 15 December 2016 at 5:51am GMT

"When Nazi troops marched into Paris in 1940, their regulation belt buckle bore the legend ‘Gott mit Uns’, God with us, and I wonder how the French felt about what that God was visiting on them? "

In rather too many cases, "enthusiastic collaboration". The Germans didn't need to do the roundups and deportations ofJewish French citizens themselves, French police were happy to do it for them, and when the Germans asked for Jewish men, the French were happy to round up the women and children as well. The myth of the resistance is just that: as the mordant old joke goes, everyone had joined the Resistance by 1946.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Thursday, 15 December 2016 at 8:51am GMT

"The stories of Christmas WERE WRITTEN to challenge and subvert this dark idea of God’s character." (emphasis added)

That's an amazingly bold assertion.

"Thou shalt not bear false witness" is one of the Ten Commandments. Whether one believes the Gospels are the Word of God or the work of faithful disciples, I see no reason to believe either would deliberately bear false witness to the life of Jesus Christ for propaganda purposes ie to portray God in a particular way.

Posted by: Kate on Friday, 16 December 2016 at 12:03pm GMT

Christianity is deeply subversive, from the Magnificat of Mary to the 'unveiling of Empire' in the Book of Revelation. The rulers are impugned. The gospel brings a profound message of God's identification with the poor.

"He has shewn strength with his arm,
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts,
He has put down the mighty from their seat, and has exalted the humble and meek,
He has filled the hungry with good things,
And the rich he has sent empty away."

As Jesus said at the very outset of his ministry:

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me...
To proclaim good news to the poor"

Or to put it more essentially in the words of Isaiah:

"I live in a high and holy place,
But also with the one who is lowly and contrite of heart"

presaging the coming of the One who "being in the very nature God... made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant... made in human likeness"

The Christian message is a conscious defiance of Empire and a devastating indictment of vainglory.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Friday, 16 December 2016 at 4:22pm GMT

A soon as anyone mentions the Anglo-Saxons I respond like Pavlov's mutt, and therefore share this passage from Benedicta Ward: 'There is [in Bede, Gregory, Alfred] a key to the spirituality of the first English Christians. At first they were promised a new kingdom and tended to see God as the God of battle who would reward devotion with victory. But they learned another lesson with experience, and that was the priority of God in all circumstances.... They learned... the humility that regards God as the only pastor, using only damaged tools. In darkness, desolation and shame, there is the place of the Cross and of the light of life and redemption, because that is the place where God is and no other." ('High King of Heaven' passim)

Posted by: David Rowett on Tuesday, 20 December 2016 at 10:17am GMT
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