Around the traps …

‘ … as always the gospel comes in with a sober ‘Yes, but…’ The saviour arrives, but goes unrecognised. He is hidden in the form of poverty and insecurity, a displaced person. Instead of peace and the golden age restored, there is conflict, a trial, a cross and a mysterious new dawn breaking unlike anything that has gone before. He was in the world and the world did not know him. Yet to those who recognise him and trust him, he gives authority (not just ‘power’, as our translations have it) to become something of what he is – to share in the manifesting of his saving work.

So what’s happening here to the idea of a saviour? The gospel tells us something hard to hear – that there is not going to be a single charismatic leader or a dedicated political campaign or a war to end all wars that will bring the golden age; it tells us that history will end when God decides, not when we think we have sorted all our problems out; that we cannot turn the kingdoms of this world into the kingdom of God and his anointed; that we cannot reverse what has happened and restore a golden age. But it tells us something that at the same time explodes all our pessimism and world-weariness. There is a saviour, born so that all may have life in abundance, a saviour whose authority does not come from popularity, problem-solving or anything else in the human world. He is the presence of the power of creation itself. He is the indestructible divine life, and the illumination he gives cannot be shrouded or defeated by the darkness of human failure.

But he has become flesh. He has come to live as part of a world in which conflict comes back again and again, and history does not stop, a world in which change and insecurity are not halted by a magic word, by a stroke of pen or sword on the part of some great leader, some genius. He will change the world and – as he himself says later in John’s gospel – he will overcome the world simply by allowing into the world the unrestricted force and flood of divine life, poured out in self-sacrifice. It is not the restoring of a golden age, not even a return to the Garden of Eden; it is more – a new creation, a new horizon for us all.

And it can be brought into being only in ‘flesh’: not by material force, not by brilliant negotiation but by making real in human affairs the depth of divine life and love; by showing ‘glory’ – the intensity and radiance of unqualified joy, eternal self-giving. Only in the heart of the ordinary vulnerability of human life can this be shown in such a way, so that we are saved from the terrible temptation of confusing it with earthly power and success’. (Rowan Williams)

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