Not, I’ll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee; Not untwist — slack they may be — these last strands of man. These words by Gerard Manley Hopkins from his poem Carrion Comfort are from a person firmly finished with the negativity of life that has led to the precipice of despair. In fact, this poem represents Gerard Manley Hopkin’s struggle with depression. Death and despair are for him closely related, and in this poem Hopkins rejects suicide as the answer to his despair. Having finished a year where I heard the word “unprecedented” more times than perhaps all other years of my life combined, there is no denying that for us collectively, all around the world, this was a very hard year, 2020.
It can be hard to see. I can be difficult to see in the eyes of a mother whose child is ripped from her arms at the border. It can be hard to see in the inmate on death row. It can be hard to see in the homeless man who in spite of having a job cannot afford a place to live. But this Christmas we celebrate God-with-us. And that is indeed Good News.
God with us. Emmanuel. This last “O Antiphon reminds us very powerfully that God is with us, in the God-man Jesus. While it can appear at times (maybe even long periods of time) that God is absent from us, the truth is God is always with us. As the fully human and fully divine Son of God, Jesus reminds us that God takes on our mortal flesh to lead us to recognize our whole selves, body and soul. The truth is that God could have left us in our sinfulness, which would be an act of justice. But God’s justice is tempered by God’s mercy. And for all of us, this is good news indeed.
Today’s “O Antiphon” recalls for us the prophecy of Zechariah that gets recited each day at Morning Prayer. In Luke 1:78, Zechariah says that “daybreak from on high” will visit us. In the Greek translation of the New Testament, the word used for “daybreak” is used three times in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (called the Septuagint for the seventy translators) uses this same word to denote a descendent or a branch, terms used to denote the Messiah. And so the implication is clear. This “daybreak from on high” is the Messiah, the one that Zechariah’s son John the Baptist will foreshadow.
Walk through any bookstore or search online for a book by typing in “leadership” and there will be no shortage of materials, books, and more. In so many ways, societies around the world cry out for leadership. In an age of unprecedented crisis, and a growing inability to discuss disagreements without being disagreeable, it is harder and harder to find leadership, or to find the types of leaders people are able to follow. Of course, if we seek solutions in political discourse or in arguments about politics, we will fall short. There is an important place for civil leadership and politics. But if we are seeking to be rescued from our sinfulness, then we need more. Today’s “O antiphon” provides the something more. To be rescued requires the perfect leader, and in Jesus we have such a perfect leader. Of course, he sometimes leads us where we might not wish to go, but he always leads us to good. During these uncertain times, pray that Jesus, as God, might rescue us and save us.
Sin is the problem. Watching for Jesus who saves is the solution. And so Advent begins. Come, Lord Jesus.