Friday, December 23, 2016

Operation Immanuel

[NOTE: This post contains minor spoilers for the plot of Rogue One. I think it's mostly what is widely known already but if you really don't want to know anything you may wish to wait until you see the film to read this...] 

Like many, I have enjoyed seeing Rogue One: A Star Wars Story—twice so far. The movie tells the story of how the Rebellion comes into possession of the plans for the Death Star and is an excellent prequel to Star WarsEpisode IV: "A New Hope".

After a great struggle, the Rogue One team succeeds in sending the plans back to the Rebellion and the film ends with a data disc being handed to Princess Leia Organa—which she will download into R2-D2 at the beginning of Episode IV.  

As the soldier hands the plans to Leia, he asks, “What have we given them?”  Leia’s one-word answer is: “Hope.”  That line has stuck with me this week as I ponder the Christmas Story.

When Jesus was born, the world of his day was ruled by an Empire.  Rome was the dominant power at the time; they didn’t have a Death Star superweapon, but their military was the best in the world.  No one could stand against them on the field of battle. Anyone who tried and failed would face brutal retribution. Caesar’s decree was the law of the land; no one questioned if there was a better way since doing so could get you killed.  (Jesus would ultimately die at the hands of the Empire.) The Jewish people were proud of their heritage; they clung to memories of their heroic past.  While they had always been oppressed under a series of Empires throughout history, Rome seemed particularly harsh—the situation seemed particularly hopeless. The people lived Isaiah’s prophecy.  They “sat in darkness” waiting for any sign of light.  But with no words from the Prophets since Malachi spoke over 400 years ago, “their fire had gone out of the galaxy”.  Or so it seemed…

And then it happened…. Against that backdrop, God launched what you might call a “rebellion”, a daring operation that deployed a “team” into the heart of Enemy-held territory to set in motion the plan that would set his People free.   Try to imagine a “conversation” amongst the Trinity as the time came to put their audacious plan into action.[1] Maybe it went something like this…

Father: The Roman Empire is oppressing my People terribly.  I’ve heard their cry as I did in the time of Moses.  We cannot delay any longer.  It’s time to put our plan to rescue the world into action.

Holy Spirit:  You mean Operation Immanuel.  That’s a rather bold step.  You are sure there is no other option for us?  You are sure the world is ready for it?

Father:  I think we all agreed that we’ve exhausted all other options at this point.  We’ve tried personal communication, patriarchal families, holy nations, priests, and prophets. You name it, we tried it.  None of them have worked as fully as we hoped.  We only have one option left.  We have to go there ourselves and be with them in every way—we have to become one of them. It’s time to send Immanuel.

Son: Excellent!  It’s settled then; my time has come… It was my destiny before the creation of all things to go and be with them.   I will go and make final preparations for my departure.  [He gives the Father a long hug before his departure.]

Father:  Now we need to assemble our team: the “boots on the ground” if you will, who will help us pull this thing off.  Ironically, we’re fully Divine but in some ways that limits us; this plan relies on human help—and lots of it—to succeed.    Begin by sending an angel to Zechariah.  He is to tell the Priest that his wife Elizabeth will soon give birth to a son who fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy and “prepare the way” for the Son’s arrival.  He should name him John.  He’ll be a great prophet; a worthy “heir” to Elijah.

Holy Spirit: You are nothing if not consistent—the barren woman gives birth yet again.  You do know Zechariah won’t be as accepting as Sarah and Hannah were?  He won’t want to go against family tradition for naming his child easily.  He plays by the Jewish rules.

Father: Well, he may take some convincing, but his wife Elizabeth is the chosen one.  Her womb is not the only part of her ready to receive Us.  She’s patiently endured the shame of barrenness for long enough.  It’s time she is rewarded for remaining faithful all these years.  And more importantly, she will be a good mentor in mothering for her cousin Mary, another devout woman who walks with Us.  I’ve chosen her to be the God-bearer.  Alert Gabriel that he’s got another mission coming up.

Holy Spirit: There were so many choices on that list.  Why Mary?  Not the strongest resume: poor, young, unmarried?  It could cause a scandal—or worse—if not handled carefully…  Do you really think she is ready to be “mother of God”?

Father:  Well, who is truly ready for that kind of calling?  But Mary is firmly rooted in Us; that will be her biggest asset on this journey.  Yes, she will struggle to accept this at first but ultimately she will trust and obey…  And we all know Gabriel can be quite convincing when he needs to be.  We’ll also send him to her fiancĂ© Joseph to confirm the message that Mary receives.  I’m sure he will need some convincing too. 

Holy Spirit:  Yes.  He might not be thrilled with this news either but he’s key to the plan’s success.  He has to be there to support Mary—and the Son will be fully human at that point, so he’ll need a good father too.    I’m sure this isn’t what Joseph has mapped out for his life. 

Father:  It will stretch him to be the “stepfather of God” to be sure but he too is up for the challenge…   Okay then, we’re all set.  Now, after that we’ll need some witnesses. 

Holy Spirit:  Would you like to summon King Herod?   Maybe the High Priest Caiaphas?

Father:  No.  They would probably turn Us down anyway.  Too busy doing important things to listen; too concerned about soiling their robes at the manger.   And anyway, we’re keeping this operation low key.  Inside their palace and temple, they might not even notice the summons.  In fact, most people will be too preoccupied to notice.  I’m kind of counting on that, actually… 

The ones with eyes that see will see; the ones with ears that hear will hear.   

I have in mind some shepherds near Bethlehem to have the angels visit.  Living out on the outskirts of the civilized world, working day after day in the fields tending their sheep, they are in the perfect place to “see” and “hear” Us when we come.

Holy Spirit:  Shepherds huh?   I should have known they’d be involved.   Just like when we summoned David to be king all those years ago. We’re nothing if not consistent.  Always the least likely heroes.  I guess we learned our lesson with Saul.

God:  Hey, technically Saul wasn’t our choice.  We gave the people exactly what they asked for. For the record, we tried to warn them through Samuel.   Anyway, I digress; back to the plan.  How are we coming on trying to find some “outsiders” to witness the birth?

Holy Spirit:  That was a little more difficult but I think I have found the perfect choice.  They may not call Us by the same name, but they do call Us.  They are also in tune with the Universe so when they see the “star” they’ll be curious about it, prone to wonder, and desiring to follow wherever it leads.  That should lead them here in a couple of years.

God:  Perfect.  He’ll be back in Nazareth by then… Okay.  Let’s see.   We have our players: Zecariah, Elizabeth, and their son John, Mary and Joseph, shepherds, wise men, and of course we’ll send some angels to herald the birth.   But just a small group though.  Humans struggle to greet one angel much less a Legion.  Have Gabriel select a few of his best to send. 

Holy Spirit:  Okay. Will do...  I still think it’s risky to send him as an infant.  Is there a more fragile creature in all of creation than a human baby?  What does this give them again?

God: We’ve been over this before.  In a word—it gives them HOPE.  It gives them the promise that comes with each new birth—human potential released into the world and succeeding against all odds like Isaiah’s image of a sapling coming up from the dry Root of Jesse. Like a rock at the top of a hill set into motion and picking up speed as it goes, this birth will light a spark of hope in the dark that fan a flame of hope.  The flame may wax and wane throughout the years, and they’ll be moments when it seems dark, but the smoldering wick will never be fully quenched.  The lullaby of hope sung at the manger will echo into Eternity…

Most of all, this birth is a reminder to humanity that We are all-in with them.

[1] I’m not sure what a “conversation” among the Trinity would really sound like; I doubt it involves language we would recognize or words we know.  I’m anthropomorphizing here for the purposes of this creative exercise.                                                                                                                                                              

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