Don’t Make Me Come Down There: Part 3

Greetings on this Monday morning before Christmas! We hope you will enjoy the third and final installment of Dr. Buchanan’s sermon, “Don’t Make Me Come Down There,” delivered originally in December 2008. If you haven’t yet caught up with the first two installments they were published here on Hold to the Good last week. We hope you enjoy!

 

Don’t Make Me Come Down There
Part 3

 

“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down”
Isaiah 64:1 (NRSV)

 

Krista Tippett, host of NPR’s popular program Speaking of Faith, has written a book of that title in which she tells the story of Margaret Spufford, an English historian and person of remarkable faith. Her life, Tippet says, “has been marked by great misfortune… after bearing and nursing two children, a severe osteoporosis… keeps her bedridden and in constant threat of bone fractures, and a second daughter [was] born with a calamitous disease of the blood which kept her in and out of hospitals for most of her twenty-two years.”

Margaret Spufford asked the questions we all ask, questions faithful people have been asking since the beginning of time: “Did God preordain her treacherously weakened bones? Did God design the genetic malfunction that turned her daughter’s short life into one episode of suffering after another?”

Spufford concluded that there is mystery here in her daughter’s flawed creation and her own. What came to her instead of an explanation was “a cathartic and visceral certainty that God was present in the suffering with them. The center of Christianity holds an astonishing premise of a creator God who entered the confines of the story of life once it was set in motion—a God who threw himself whole into space and time, the light and darkness of life with us.”

“The Word become flesh and dwelt among us.” The goodness of God, Margaret Spufford discovered, does not banish the suffering that is bafflingly rife in this world but shares it.

“I cling to the incarnation,” she says. “On those terrible children’s wards I could neither have worshipped or respected any God who had not himself cried, ‘My God, My God, why has thou forsaken me?’ as Jesus cried from the cross.”

“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down.” 

Did you notice that the tone changes later in the passage from demand for immediate and violent divine intercession to a beautiful prayer of affirmation?

            Yet, O Lord, you are our Father,
            we are the clay, and you are the potter;
            we are the work of your hand.
 

Now the image of God is parental and artful. Parents and artists don’t tear apart. A mother’s intercessions in the lives of her children are not likely to be aggressive and violent but lovingly and infinitely patient; shaping lives by love, not coercion; forming a new creature by gentle persuasion, not force. A potter lovingly shapes with her hands, never forces, but patiently, slowly, enables a new creation to come into being. That, the Bible says, is how God comes down: not by ripping open the heavens but in acts of infinitely patient love.

Anne Lamott, in Traveling Mercies, tells a story that typically has rough edges and language inappropriate for the pulpit but also theological truth.

A man was telling a friend (actually a bartender) in Alaska, how he has lost whatever faith he’d had after his twin-engine plane crashed in the tundra.

“Yeah,” he says bitterly, “I lay there in the wreckage, hour after hour, nearly frozen to death, crying out to God to save me, praying for help with every ounce of my being, But God didn’t raise a finger to help. So I’m done with that whole charade.”

“But”, says the friend, “You’re here. You were saved.”

“Yeah, that’s right,” said the man, “because finally [some] Eskimos come along” (p. 117).

That is how God comes: in acts of human kindness and generosity, in acts of justice and political courage, in acts of selfless sacrifice. That is how God comes: when men and women give themselves to others in generous love.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

G. K. Chesterton said once that “God came down and slipped in the back door, to surprise us from behind, in the hidden and personal parts of our being.”

“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down.”

In our heart of hearts we know that that is exactly what happened in a barn behind an inn in a small town in Judea on the periphery of the Roman Empire. God came down in the most quiet, most intimate, most human way, in the birth of a child.

And that is how God continues to come: in the generous love of people who wait for the child and welcome the child and would follow the child.

That is how God continues to come: in the common, ordinary, human stuff of life, now made new because he was born into it.

“Don’t make me come down there” our refrigerator magnet says. I walked out of the kitchen to look at it one more time, and there it was on the side of the refrigerator—in the middle of pictures of a newborn in the arms of her weary but smiling and proud mother, a high school senior holding up a volleyball tournament trophy, three little girls in impossibly cute Halloween costumes, two sisters and a brother dressed as angels and a wise man for the Christmas pageant, a college student playing her cello, a beloved great grandfather a few weeks before he died.

“Don’t make me come down there”—?

God has. God has come into the world in our own, now blessed, humanness.

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. “

Thanks be to God.

Comments

  1. John Buchanan says:

    It’s perfect. Thank you so much. xxoo see you soon on Santa Fe! fun! fun

    Sent from my iPad

    >

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