Cheryl Lawrie is a bright young thinker in the Uniting Church. The kind of gal of which the UCA could probably do with more. Despite this, although she appears to aim at being “alternative”, she is so very…well…Uniting Church.
She has an opinion piece in today’s Sunday Age which caught my eye because it was illustrated with this picture:
We have written here before on the tendancy of some to bestow Messiah status upon Mr Obama (somewhat akin to the crowds in Monty Python’s “Life of Brian”). I was highly amused by Ms Lawrie’s report on a social networking site which
collated its users’ predictions about Obama’s presidency, inviting them to finish the sentence, “When Obama wins … .” The responses flooded in: “the permanent war will end and there’ll be liberty and justice for all”, said one. My favourite was “Charlie Brown will finally kick that football”.
Ms Lawrie goes on to reflect on what it is to have hope and what it means to have a Messiah – a real one. There is something very true about her very “un-Dresser-like” (see the latest report in Cooees) description of the real Messiah:
When we look at Jesus — God with flesh and bones — our understanding of a Messiah is redefined. It’s based only and always in love and justice; a power that’s collaborative, not coercive; one that doesn’t demand authority but instead speaks truth to it. The story of Jesus’ birth is not about being rescued from the world, but being taken right into its most fragile and godforsaken places.
Fr Dresser too wants to emphasis the point that Jesus is a Messiah of this world, but he, in contrast to Ms Lawrie, thinks that this can be done by de-emphasing the radicalness of the Incarnation.
Ms Lawrie appears to be right on the money when she says:
At the heart of the story lies this truth: the birth of divine hope happens in the darkest parts of our world, and it needs humans as its midwives simply to keep it alive.
I found myself thinking how she might enjoy reading the Holy Father’s second encyclical “Spe Salvi”.
But then–having demonstrated so beautifully how necessary God’s “inbreaking” into our world is if we are to have REAL hope, she then goes and ruins it all with this closing paragraph:
We like to think of God as being able to fix the world, like magic. But perhaps the greatest faith isn’t always to believe that God can do anything; it may take just as much faith to believe that God might rely on humankind to do that work; to bring love and peace, to work to restore justice. It’s no wonder that people look to political leaders in the hope they will be Messiahs, but it’s also a cop-out for us to wait for our leaders to fail, unsurprised at the inevitable disillusionment. If we don’t believe in Messiahs, or if we know that no Messiah will rescue us from the world in which we live, then the responsibility falls back on to us: we are the ones who must be midwives to the birth of hope in a broken world.
In the end, the alternative she poses to placing our hope of salvation in human political leaders is to place the hope of salvation in the whole mass of humanity. This then makes sense of her earlier, somewhat disdainful, note that
many Christians base their faith on a belief that Jesus will come again, in power and glory next time, taking all before him.
Perhaps she could actually benefit from reading Papa Benny’s own words in his encyclical:
Yet our daily efforts in pursuing our own lives and in working for the world’s future either tire us or turn into fanaticism, unless we are enlightened by the radiance of the great hope that cannot be destroyed even by small-scale failures or by a breakdown in matters of historic importance. If we cannot hope for more than is effectively attainable at any given time, or more than is promised by political or economic authorities, our lives will soon be without hope. It is important to know that I can always continue to hope, even if in my own life, or the historical period in which I am living, there seems to be nothing left to hope for. Only the great certitude of hope that my own life and history in general, despite all failures, are held firm by the indestructible power of Love, and that this gives them their meaning and importance, only this kind of hope can then give the courage to act and to persevere. Certainly we cannot “build” the Kingdom of God by our own efforts—what we build will always be the kingdom of man with all the limitations proper to our human nature. The Kingdom of God is a gift, and precisely because of this, it is great and beautiful, and constitutes the response to our hope.
While it might sound trite to say simply that our hope is based on “a belief that Jesus will come again” and bring with him true justice and true mercy, yet that, and in the end only that, can give true hope to our lives.
If the hope we celebrate this Christmas was, in the first place, an act of God’s profound giving of himself to the point of being counted as one of us, then we cannot simply turn around and say that our future hope is only to be found in the hearts of men. Today, as much as two thousand years ago, we look for the coming of the Lord and the gift of his kingdom – which we “cannot build…by our own efforts.”