Real hope is based on faith, and faith is not an empty leap in the dark – not even, in fact least of all – in Christianity. Despite the caricature of Christian (and “religious”) faith so often used by sceptics and critics, some of them even within the Churches, the Bible never suggests “blind” faith. The best definition of faith in the Bible, perhaps in all human expression in any language of any time, is this: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” In another translation, “It is what gives assurance to our hopes; it is what gives us conviction about things we can’t see.” (Book of Hebrews 11:1 – New Testament.)
without Jesus, beyond the binge and after the bloating indigestion, mega-sugar-crash, and fortified eggnog and other spirits hangover, what was it about? Fantasizing about Santa and goodwill to all people for some vague reason? Receiving some gifts that symbolize a love which is usually neglected in practice? Feeling a nice glow for a few days but then crashing back into the loneliness or shallowness of regular life for most of the rest of the year?
The central meaning of the story, as it swiftly emerged from the events of his life, death, and reputed resurrection from the dead, is simple when accepted as it was told by his earliest followers. The man Yeshua was in fact the incarnate Son of Israel’s God, the One God, the only God, the very Creator of the universe and all that is. He had been promised to the first human as a Saviour and Redeemer to restore humanity’s broken relationship with and estrangement from the Creator. As such, he was the heir of King David, the rightful King of Israel, but he was not to make Israel the new world superpower overwhelming all the nations with judgment and wrath, but to bring universal peace, reconciliation, and restoration between God and humanity, and among all humans, and between humanity and the broken creation.
Repentance! And how does one truly repent? That comes from within, in and of the spirit, the full acceptance of what an awakened conscience shouts at our hearts. It cannot be contrived by an intellectual process or a superficial emotional response of regret and remorse. Political posturing does not constitute repentance, as necessary as political action is at the national level. In Germany, there was, from the beginning of the movement, an underlying spiritual movement. It came out of the country’s long-neglected Christian roots.
Western humans entertain a sort of self-hypnosis that we can and will master nature, compel it to do our bidding, because, tiny on the cosmic scale as we are, we are smart, really smart! We can learn everything we need to because we are so smart. We apparently are in the process of uncovering the very secrets of the Universe Itself – its when, what, and how at least. Our current paradigm mostly sloughs off the why and who and makes the where irrelevant.
The pursuit of fame, fortune, the perfect body, the perfect career, the perfect partner, all turns to sand after a while. When we wake up to that, we begin to search for an identity beyond our technological prowess and our mania for “self-actualizing” ourselves as anything we care to imagine. For most of us, the refrain of “you can be and do anything you like or can imagine, even totally reinvent yourself and your gender” turns out to be the pursuit of a phantom which keeps disappearing around the next corner or curve in the road. Or maybe the Phantom sneaks up from behind and laughs snidely that it’s a chimera. The Phantom smirks that we should have known all along what we are really supposed to become, but now we’ve burned so many bridges it’s too late, or seems to be, to go back.
Regaining contact with our personal inner moral compass in our now largely morally bankrupt culture is very urgent and important. In the long run, it is even more important than taming COVID-19. At least if we believe that human beings are more than creatures who have only a finite existence defined by birth and death. And perhaps even then.
If he was an up and coming new rabbi, one even recognized by the Immerser as someone special, why would he come back here to the backside of Israel? Why didn’t he go to the city and set up in the Temple Porticos like the other rabbis seeking to gather disciples and make a name for themselves? He would never get anywhere by spending his time up in the Galil among its uncultured peasants and yokels.
What in the name of the Blessed One did “baptizing with fire” mean? He could understand undergoing a ceremonial mikvah to symbolize a desire to live a pure life for Adonai. He hadn’t done mikvah yet, but he sometimes felt a tug in that direction. He was well aware of his faults and that, as an example of Adonai’s chosen people, he fell far short. About this baptism by fire he had no clue. It sounded downright unpleasant! But prophets were always rather cryptic.
The art of dying well is never out of date, but the wisdom to prepare for it is more and more rare. Instead, we have created a culture which obsesses about prolonging the illusions of youth. Our culture denies that those raging hormones need to be given proper channeling or they will curse both the individuals who abuse them and their victims. The strong and aggressive may use their raging energy (which is largely sexual repression and misappropriation) to subdue and destroy others. A subtler method of destroying the repressor and oppressor of one’s urges, or anyone who dares challenge the actions, causes, and words of the new class of revolutionaries, is to engage in outrage at every voice which suggests your preferred cause may be hollow. We now have whole masses substituting rage for the love they are seeking in all the wrong places.