"You shall no more be termed Forsaken"
Tantur Rector, Fr. Russ McDougall, C.S.C
This past year we’ve certainly experienced a roller-coaster sort of ride in international politics, and in the local politics of many countries. We’ve seen a resurgence of ethnic and religious nationalisms in different parts of the world, a breakdown and withdrawal from international structures of cooperation, and normalization of gun violence as a way of expressing grievances and settling scores.
Whether it’s expressed in slogans like “My country first,” or “Keep immigrants out,” or “We can do better on our own,” what we’re seeing is the aggressive assertion that the self stands alone.
It’s rather striking, then, that the Scriptures we read during the Christmas season suggest that the reality is quite different. In a number of Christian traditions, one of the Scriptures that is proclaimed on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day is chapter 62 of the prophecy of Isaiah. The prophet speaks to the people of Israel in God’s name, saying:
You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate;
but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
and your land Married;
for the Lord delights in you,
and your land shall be married.
For as a young man marries a young woman,
so shall your builder marry you;
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you (Is. 62.3-5).
The prophet says to the people: you’re not forsaken; you’re not on your own. God has taken you to Himself as spouse, as His beloved. For Christians, Christmas is celebrated as the marriage of heaven and earth. We stand in awe and wonder that the Eternal God of the universe not only takes note of us, but cares for us, seeks us out, loves us to such an extent that God enters into our history—takes on our flesh—and so enters into a relationship with us, and with all creation, that can never be broken.
Our celebration of Christmas is a reminder to us, and a proclamation to all people, that God has created us for relationship—relationship with God, relationship with other people, relationship with all of God’s creation.
We don’t stand alone. When we assert ourselves aggressively over and against the other, we do great harm, both to the other, and to ourselves. Christian faith proclaims that we realize our self with, and through, and in service to, the other.
Even so, the aggressive assertion of self we’re seeing in our politics, at levels both local and international, reflects the reality that in our current economic order, there are many individuals and groups who struggle, who are unable to make a dignified life for themselves and their families, who feel left behind, forsaken.
We who believe that God cares for us in a boundless way, that God has sought us out from all eternity, and that God has bound himself in relationship to us with ties that can never be broken, have a responsibility to care for one another in the same way.
This Christmastide, and in the year ahead, let’s recommit ourselves to cultivating the ties that bind us, one to the other, across the boundaries of ethnicity and faith, so that no one is left behind, or feels forsaken. Let’s recommit ourselves to fashioning social, political and economic structures that build on our God-given predisposition to relationship, and enable individuals and groups to flourish.
From all of us here at Tantur, which was founded to nurture ever closer relationships among people of diverse faith traditions, a very joyful Christmas to all of you, and abundant blessings in the year ahead.