CathBlog - Baby Jesus smashes systems of order

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BY MARK JOHNSON

We are an ordered lot. Neat housing blocks, grid-patterned suburbs, notions of acceptable behaviour, and modes of correct speech. All is measured and quantified, whether we adhere to mainstream or fringe. 

We extend and inflate our need for order and resemblance to other people. We accept others according to how they look to us, according to their social position, their occupation, their income, their education, their success, or their sporting allegiance. Our perfected heroes and celebrities are those who reinforce our fantasies of order. 

In lock step with the ‘secular’ delight in order is that of the metaphysical in and by which we manufacture an invisible system which qualitatively amplifies the very same prejudices which typify the broader society.

All that is – seen and unseen – reflects our small loves of order and our self-amplitude. The heroes and celebrities of this sanctified space too are all air brushed, softened and perfected so to conform to and bolster an ideal.

And so, ultimately, high and far beyond us is a deity of order, the guarantor of that cosmic harmony which elevates the few, excludes the many, and forces all into scripted roles. 

This deity has been designed by those systems of order, both secular and religious that we create. And too by those hierarchies – secular and religious, structural and cognitive – we have in place. 

Much of what it is to be richly human cannot be spoken of by that language linked to the very systems of order that we understand ourselves by. Our language has become platitudinous and sentimental, or so textually abbreviated so to convey the most trivial, but each showing the dissonance between our vitality and our available means by which to give it meaning. 

Conditioned lives cannot speak of what lies beyond order.

This is what happens when systems of order are asked to walk and talk for us. They cannot, for they are lifeless, and can only show us our own static aspirations. Maybe we can construct anew; and that’s what we do, ever new variations of the same. 

History as one progressive line of grey monoliths; perhaps the lips curled into an enigmatic smile here, a digit raised in indicative gesture there, enough alteration to persuade us of change, difference, of a new day.

But yet the same material used to construct.

We are now in Advent. Christmas again approaches. The birth of God in the world once abruptly pierced our sealed histories of order. 

Jesus of Nazareth revealed the Living God to be not a deity of Olympian attributes, not a pristine metaphysical idea too perfect to be associated with matter, and not a deity to which structures of privilege and power could be appealed to for legitimation (although they have tried). 

Jesus of Nazareth revealed the Living God within the midst of the ordinary, of that always overlooked by those addicted to extravagance and spectacle. He spoke to the outcast, to the poor, to the weak; he befriended sinners, ritually becoming what he associated with, and was thereby exiled from that other deity of purity and might.

The Living God, the God we claim to worship this coming Christmas, is the God of ritual impurity, the God of weakness, and of holy disorder. 

It was not the pure, the powerful, the cool, or the celebrity that were sought, for they have had their time in the sun. The Incarnation casts the mighty from their executive boards and sends the rich to the soup kitchen. The order of privilege is overturned and pulled inside out.

The Incarnation is the basis of our faith. It is the event that smashed once and for all those systems whose only purpose is to prevent any actual encounter with the Living God, or any freedom from the many tyrannies of order. 

Metaphysicians are horrified that their ground of order can become realised as a human, can be realised as that very disorder its elaborate systems have so derided. The high priesthoods of order know that their authority means nothing if God has been made so pedestrian, so available, so, so…human. All standard bearers of exclusion and injustice are simply shown as irrelevant by the Incarnation.

So yet again this unruly feast of the intrusive God rudely enters our year, and yes it is increasingly difficult to meet this God  – the systems of order spend a lot of time and effort sealing over the breach through which Incarnation erupted. We are given excuses to forget. But not all breaches can be sealed, especially when history has been torn open. Within our hearts we know; the Incarnation still speaks, and order has been undone.

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Mark Johnson teaches in the Department of Studies in Religion at the University of Sydney, where he is a PhD candidate. In January, he is teaching a course at the the university's Summer School titled Christianity as a Global Religion.

Disclaimer: CathBlog is an extension of CathNews story feedback. It is intended to promote discussion and debate among the subscribers to CathNews and the readers of the website. The opinions expressed in CathBlog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the members of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference or of Church Resources.

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