open and closed

It is characteristic of the kingdom that Jesus brings that it is both openly proclaimed before the world, but disclosed only to those who have faith. And for them, as it was for Jesus’ followers, Mary included, it was opened up to their understanding as they were able to take it in.

Mary’s song and much that surrounds the birth involved a shaking of things as they were in ways that would meet opposition. Jesus’ coming was not to give the world what was best in the world’s terms. But only what is the best in God’s terms. This is pictured well in water baptism. The one who is baptized is baptized into Jesus’ death, and then rises to a new, resurrection life. And what happens to the believer through baptism also is meant for the world, for all creation in the new creation through Jesus.

Of course Jesus’ coming brought anticipation to those who were following. After all wasn’t he to reign on the throne of his father David? And wasn’t that reign prophesied to be over all the world? Yes, and yes. But not in the way anyone imagined, including Mary. She had to be taught by God, a learning which may well have started with Simeon’s words to her when the baby Jesus was circumcised: that a sword would pierce her heart, that God’s kingdom in Jesus would come and be active on God’s terms.

When one thinks about it, right from the very beginning this was true. The angel appears to Mary and tells her she will conceive and bear this special son, even though she is a virgin. And in answer to her question about that, the angel explains it in terms of God’s special work through the Holy Spirit. Mary then has to deal with what she knows will be taken to be unfaithfulness to her betrothed Joseph. Joseph has to work through thinking the worst and then an angel appears to him. He ends up bearing something of the same disgrace which Mary had to bear.

Yes, God’s way is open to the world in the offer of this good news of Jesus, received and entered into by faith. But it is closed beyond that, since only those who have faith can begin to understand what God is really doing, and what he is about in and through Jesus. This is akin to us when we open up scripture or meditate on the truth of God in Jesus. It seems clear enough. But the meaning begins to unfold only as we receive it and begin to take it in and be taken into it by faith.

Of course a plain reading of scripture will let us know that this is a message that is radical. Our problem is that both our minds and our hearts have to be reframed and retrained to live in the new way in Jesus. The way of God becoming flesh, born as a fully human, helpless baby. Placed in a feeding trough with cattle nearby. One who did not live on the high end of the old order, but was bringing in and living out an entirely new order in the kingdom of God come in him. For us and through us for the world.