Saturday, December 22, 2007

December 22: O Desire of Nations

O come, Desire of Nations, bind in one the hearts of humankind;
Bid thou our sad divisions cease, and be for us our king of peace.
The Hyman 1982, mod.

O Ruler of the nations, the only joy of every human heart,
O Keystone of the mighty arch of humankind:
Come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.

I love the image of the “Keystone of the mighty arch of humankind.” It reminds me of two quotes:

The arc of human history is long, but it bends toward justice. Martin Luther King, Jr., after a Universalist minister of the 19th century (whose name I have forgotten)

The glory of God is the human person fully alive. Irenaeus of Lyons, 2nd century

“Arc” and “arch” are not necessarily the same thing, of course. It’s one of those “all arches are arcs, but not all arcs are arches.” But if all arches are arcs, than, according to King and his predecessor, justice is the arch that upholds humanity, and, for we Christians, Jesus is the keystone of justice. A nice thought to contemplate in these waning days of Advent.

Many find the quote from Irenaeus startling. Could anyone from the early Church really have said such a thing? Yes, indeed. The humanist, progressive strand of Christianity was not invented in our own or any age subsequent to the early Church. It has been there from the beginning.

Christmas is almost always a paradox in this regard. It is for many people a time when we do not feel fully alive. We are often either exhausted from the preparation or sad at our loneliness or a missing loved one when the whole world seems to be talking about family. Yet it is not those things that make us “fully alive.” It is the steadfast and unconditional love of God. It is the baby. Let that be the measure not only of our justice, but of our well-being these days.

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