Trans-generational Vision

Short recap

Over the last three weeks as we have journeyed through Advent I have been exploring my concept of a trans-generational vision[1]. My concept of the trans-generational vision rests on the vision not simply spanning across the generations, but on it remaining as true and relevant in each succeeding generation as it has been in the generations previous. The task in each generation is to engage the vision so as to unlock its truth within the particular context of the here and now.

Going back to the celebration at the end of November of Christ the King as the culmination of another Church year, I noted [2] that Christ the King is less a celebration of an individual kingship of Jesus than it is a recognition that in Jesus we have the arrival of the Kingdom of God. In Jesus the Kingdom breaks into temporal time in a new, and for Christians, a final way. From this point onwards, the Kingdom is here. Yet, the Kingdom challenges our concept of linear time, for while it is already here as manifested in its signs of a call to love and justice, it remains for us, within the boundaries of temporal time, not yet complete. Hence we talk about the Kingdom of God as being both present now – in temporal time, and yet in trans-generational vision terms it is still in the process of coming.

Narratives of the birth of Jesus

Matthew, and Luke, following Mark record the baptism of Jesus as an epiphany of Jesus as the Messiah. Matthew follows Mark more closely in locating this event within the context of the preaching of John the Baptist who, in temporal time is Jesus’ cousin, yet in trans-generational vision time is Elijah come again announcing Jesus as the Messiah. While Luke makes no mention of John in his account, for Mark the baptism of Jesus comes right at the very start of his gospel account. Matthew and Luke on the other hand begin their gospel accounts with the story of the Nativity of Jesus.

We tend to conflate the Matthean and Lucan accounts failing to notice that they are both quite different. Only Luke has Shepherds and only Matthew has Wise Men. In Luke the focus is on Mary. In Matthew the focus is on Joseph. Matthew mentions Herod and the danger he poses to the newborn Jesus. Luke makes no mention of this.

The Lectionary for 2013 gives us Matthew’s account of the Nativity. In Matthew’s account the trans-generational vision is colored in particularly Jewish hues.  Matthew’s is a very Jewish gospel where Jesus is portrayed as the new Moses who comes to bring a new Law, a law no longer confined to the Jews, but a new Law, inviting all people to enter into the promises of the Kingdom. This inclusive invitation is a characteristic of the trans-generation vision as it emerges in the prophecies in the Book of Isaiah. Isaiah’s hope re-emerges in the Christian era as hope of inclusion, realized.

Another important characteristic of Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus is the focus on Joseph, the righteous Jewish man. Rather like Matthew and his community, Joseph is challenged to transcend the limitations of his Jewish culture-bound worldview in order to hear God’s very particular call to him. Many commentators explore the huge cultural implications for Joseph in his decision to go through with marriage to a pregnant Mary.

In adding the Wise Men and Herod into his account, Matthew asserts his Jewish identity through the implicit association between the infant Jesus and the infant Moses. Moses was also born into a dangerous situation with Pharaoh seeking the death of all newborn Israelite males. Moses’ mother conceals her son in the bulrushes, where ironically he is discovered and adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter. Joseph, soon after the birth of Jesus must flee with his wife and son from Herod’s murderous rage. He takes the familiar refugee road to Egypt. Given the significance of the connections being drawn between Jesus and Moses the irony of Egypt as a safe refuge is not lost on Matthew, nor should it be lost on us, given the current tragedy of the refugee crisis in Syria and elsewhere in our own world.

The kingdom of God

The Kingdom of God:

  • Comes in the form of a child, born in obscurity, and surrounded by circumstances that place him in considerable life-danger.
  • It comes as a challenge to conventional cultural values as represented by a righteous man Joseph. God calls Joseph beyond his conventional expectations of how things should be and to step beyond the security of what he knows and expects into the considerable risk of actions that carry unknown consequences.
  • It comes through a young woman whose conceiving of a child is the result of a mysterious and as some contend, a miraculous process, flying in the face of the normal laws of biology. 

What matters here is how we in our own time and place receive the trans-generational vision of the Kingdom in order to unlock the truth of the Incarnation for a world in desperate need of its Good News. In this task we are burdened by the  thinking of modernity, shaped by a scientific revolution that has conditioned us to assess any claim as either true or false according to our capacity, now much enhanced by technology, to verify its veracity through external observation.

The fallacy of true or false

Matthew nor Luke construct Jesus’ birth narratives in order to articulate a true or false dichotomy. Neither of them write from a place of ignorance with regard to the biology of procreation. It is just that both Matthew and Luke hold a pre-scientific view of truth. Unlike ours, theirs concept of truth is more nuanced. They hold an enchanted[3] understandings of truth in which the everyday is charged with the mysterious and inexplicable action of God.

For Matthew and Luke the virginal conception is a truth, which is neither affirmed nor denied on the basis of its probability or improbability, as seen from the perspective of everyday experience. Truth emerges through events that ordinarily are improbable because such truth invites us to move beyond the blinkers imposed upon us by  the confines of an everyday experience that is too small for us. The paradox of modern life is that now free to move about the external world in ways unimaginable to even our parent’s generation, we nevertheless carry around within us an ever shrinking capacity for imagining ourselves in the world.

A truth for today.

The Incarnation is the powerful truth that has never been more needed by our own world today. The Incarnation as truth-claim does not rely on us having to accept or deny the veracity of the seemingly supernatural elements in the birth narratives. The supernatural within these narratives has no explanatory function at all. Rather the mystery which shrouds reported events has a protective function that prevents any one generation dumbing-down the mystery of God’s actions only to that which is capable of rational comprehension.

In Matthew and Luke the function of the narrative of the birth of Jesus is to point us to the realization that at a certain point in the unfolding of the trans-generational vision of creation, the Creator voluntarily becomes subject to the limitations of being part of the Creation. The Creator enters into within the experience of the Creation. The how of this happening is beside the point of the story.

I believe the function of the narratives of the birth of Jesus is to attest that being human, fully human, reveals something fundamental about nature of God. The trans-generational Messianic vision now anchored in the events of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah is the way God calls us to live out the fullness of our humanity as an expression of an essential truth that we are made in the image of the unseen God.

As human beings we are made in the image of God. We are invited through the Incarnation to value ourselves and the created world, because God clearly does so. When we follow God’s lead, we labor with God to continually co-create a world fit for human beings to live in. This is a world shaped by the signs of the Kingdom.

In the Kingdom of God despite appearances to the contrary, love is stronger than hate, the passion for justice confronts systems of injustice enshrining self-interest, exclusion of others as an expression of our fear gives way to a spirit of generous inclusion of all.

In our own time following the cataclysm of two world wars, we once dreamed of a better world captured by the phrase a land fit for heroes to live in.  As the radical in-breaking of the Kingdom of God, the Incarnation – the birth of Jesus as Messiah, is God’s way of showing us what it means to be fully human, and what a world fit for human beings to thrive in, might look like!

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