Christmas: God Becomes Less Aloof

I just came back from Latin mass and Indian food.  Unfortunately, the Indian restaurant didn’t have its buffet, so I ordered a lamb dish.  My Grandma sent me money so I can have a good Christmas (or Christmas weekend) dinner, and I spent it on this particular meal.  The bonus is that I got to take home my leftovers.  It’s also interesting that spicy food makes me sweat.  Too bad it’s not cold outside, because then I’d have another bonus—food making me warm!

For Latin mass, we had philosopher priest.  I went to the Christmas carols thirty minutes before the actual service, and, surprisingly, they went pretty fast!  I was expecting to be sitting there stewing in my bitter thoughts, with the time slowly dragging on.  But, although I had bitter thoughts, I wasn’t totally in the dumps.

The homily was about how we’re told that we’re supposed to be happy on Christmas, but that nothing on earth can make us truly happy.  For philosopher priest, we need a reason to be happy on Christmas, and that reason is that Christ came to earth to save us. 

Yesterday, I watched Star Wars movies all day, while I read Israel Knohl’s Sanctuary of Silence.  I try to share something from my reading every weekday, so today I’ll explain why the book is called Sanctuary of Silence.  For Knohl, the author of the priestly Torah (PT) believes that Moses inaugurated a new picture of God, which differed from what came before.  Before, God related to human beings, who were made in God’s image.  In the time of Moses, however, when Israel learned that God’s name was Yahweh, a theological shift took place: Israel was to worship God for God’s sake, not on account of any rewards she might receive.  God was holy and numinous, and spoke only to a few people.  And, when God did speak, there was no dialogue: it was God spoke, and Moses listened!  The priest also tried to tone down anthropomorphisms, since his picture of God entailed a being who was above and beyond humans.  And what was the “sanctuary of silence”?  The priest doesn’t record prayers or Psalms in his liturgy.  For Knohl, the priest’s ideal was for people to be silent before a majestic God.  Knolh cites Psalm 65:2: to you (God), silence is praise.  That corresponds with my latest post on my weekly quiet time, I Kings 6: At the Library: the Israelites weren’t making noise when they were at the sanctuary site, building the temple. 

It’s hard for me to see this as a step up, especially when, on Christmas, we celebrate God doing the exact opposite: God the Son left his heavenly abode and became a man, living among human beings.  Now, God isn’t removed from us as he once was, for there is a member of the Godhead who was once one of us (and still is, if you believe Christ is a glorified man), who experienced what we have to go through.  Christmas is about God becoming less aloof, not more so!

There was a time when I was drawn to the priestly portrayal of God—as holy and pure and majestic.  I don’t think that’s a bad thing.  In my opinion, that should balance a perception that God is loving, like a friend.  As a pastor once said, we can play with the prince and have fun with him and be friends with him, but he’s still the prince.

As far as “loving God for his own sake, not for what he can do for us” goes, I’m open to that, as long as I’m not adopting the Calvinistic mindset when I embrace such a concept, one that expects us to glorify a cold deity “for his own sake” and not care how he treats people.  My God is good to me, but he has purposes above and beyond me personally: he wants to benefit all of his creation.  And he desires to involve me in that larger picture, in some way, shape, or form. 

But the beginning of God’s kingdom occurred when Jesus was born, which is what this day claims to commemorate.  So, for all who celebrate Christmas (no, I’m not waging the Christmas wars!), I say, “Merry Christmas!”

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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