Brushing Shoulders In The Stable

More Auden and Advent reflections. This time from Alex Sosler.

“Remembering the stable where for once in our lives

Everything became a You and nothing was an It.”

-WH Auden

Many times and in many ways, I’m prone to objectify that which I encounter. I see my neighbor not as someone I need to know but who needs to mind his own business, or the passing car driver not as a human being with an eternal soul but as someone who needs to get out of my way. In a myriad of ways, hell is other people—all these “its” floating around making me uncomfortable. 

What I objectify in my career as a professor is no different. The academy trains students to treat everything objectively: take yourself out of the picture, bring no bias, manipulate and master the material. Knowledge is merely an “It” to be considered and examined with each deconstructive cut and measure. My tendency is often bent towards treating everything as something to be used, dominated, bent into my shape, and controlled. What results is compromised relationships and isolation; I shiver in a nowhere place among no-name people.

 In Auden’s lines above, he suggests that Jesus’s birth comes a new way of knowing. In our tendencies to treat people and knowledge as a means to an end, God interrupts in a deeply personal way. Yahweh takes a Jewish name, he comes to a particular place at a precise time, and as Eugene Peterson’s The Message aptly puts it, “moves into the neighborhood.” God doesn’t stay in heaven to be contemplated; he moves down to be known as a neighbor and a good one at that. In Jesus, everything becomes a “You”— deeply known and loved.

Philosopher Esther Meeks writes, “In the I-You relation, I and You are present to one another in a way that puts all else in the background. Rather than ‘experiencing’ the You, I behold it, encounter it, confront it, commune with it. In that encounter, I and You are present to one another in an enduring present.” When Jesus becomes man, he provides a living example of a relationship with others: he listens, he hears, he beholds, he communes. At the end of the novel Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, Reverend John Ames, the aging pastor from Iowa, writes, “Augustine says the Lord loves each of us as an only child, and that has to be true. ‘He will wipe the tears from all faces.’ It takes nothing from the loveliness of the verse to say that is exactly what will be required.” So it is with us; Jesus wipes our tears like we were his only child, each uniquely, fearfully and wonderfully made.

In the stable, Love takes shape and Truth finds a face. Jesus comes to us, changing not only the way we view learning and knowledge but the very way we relate to one another. By God’s grace, everything becomes a You and nothing is now an It.

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