My first car ever, at the ripe old age of 30, was a 1998 Corolla who, at the suggestion of a friend, I named Bela. (Bela Corolla. You know, after Bela Karolyi? This turned out to be an awkward name because I always had to explain it–and also have it explained to me, initially, but it was the best I could do at the time.)
Bela had some problems at the end (which was 2009) and I didn’t get a very good trade-in price for him, but before the end, he was a pretty dependable little car, getting me from New England to Denver and back again, and also across the Rockies in what turned out to be a record-making blizzard, in the interim. The best thing about Bela, though, was that he had a tape deck.
That might seem a little extra-retro, even for me, but here’s the thing about a tape deck: I could still listen to my tapes, for one thing, and I could plug in an adapter so I could also listen to CD’s and–when I finally got one–my “This one goes to eleven” iPod. Kermit, on the other hand, as well as the short-lived and nameless car I had in between Bela and Kermit, is too new to have a tape deck and too old to have a port for an iPod to plug in, so all I can listen to are CD’s–or the radio, which is what I usually end up doing because there’s a great folk station around here and also because I’ve gotten out of the habit of listening to song after song in a row by the same musician.
All that to say that I finally realised that I am excellently situated to listen to the CD’s of Handel’s Messiah a whole lot during this Advent season. I’ve had them for years because I requested a recording of the same once for Christmas, and yet I’ve probably only listened to them three times or something, before this year. There was something about them that put me off–something which, at the time I received them, I think I thought was incorrect or inauthentic, although, having listened to them quite a bit in the last few weeks, the only thing I think it might have been was that on this recording the vocalists don’t pronounce the -ed endings of verbs as a separate syllable. Which objection now just seems . . . well, pretty typical of me, actually.
I was driving when I finally decided I was ready to take one of these CD’s out of its case and actually insert it in the CD player which is good for nothing except playing CD’s, so I just kind of flailed the multi-case around until a CD came out. Therefore I wasn’t aware (nor even particularly concerned, surprisingly) whether I was going to be listening to the first or the second one first.
It was the second one, which basically puts the listener right at the beginning of Christ’s Passion. I’m a firm believer that the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus is why Christmas matters, so it didn’t seem as incongruous to the “reason for the season” as the fact that I was on my way to cash in a no-purchase-necessary, free-item coupon from Victoria’s Secret. (I deeply dislike and resent Victoria’s Secret, I should say, but I will gladly abscond with legitimate free stuff if I can get it.) I listened through Jesus’ being despised and rejected of men, His bearing our griefs and carrying our sorrows and by His stripes our being healed. But we, like sheep, have gone astray and all that see Him laugh Him to scorn. Then, as if to prove it, the chorus began to sing the movement: “He trusted in God that He would deliver Him.”
It’s one of the sections of the Messiah I’ve lately come to love at least musically, partly because it is, for better or worse, very singable, and because when it’s sung well, it effectively conveys the derision and scorn in its repetition of what people said when Jesus hung on the cross:
He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God. (Matthew 27.43, KJV. See also Psalm 22.8: He trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.)
For some reason, though, as it began to play this time, the words shot into my chest or someplace and I caught my breath and actually started to sob.
Well. I say sob, but it was probably the shortest sobbing ever–it was kind of like I had a microburst of revelation which elicited not more than sixty seconds of actual crying, and then my eyes dried and I got out of my car and ran my errand and went home–but that was almost three weeks ago now, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it. I’m not too sure I can even explain what I was thinking, but I want to try.
I think what struck me to the heart was this sense of the heartbreaking irony, ignorance and arrogance of this derision. Ha ha, Jesus, you fool! Let God prove that He loves you. A good God wouldn’t let His own Son die, would He? If you really are His own Son. Proud dad, huh?
But all along the Father did delight in Jesus–and had said as much out loud at least twice. His heart had to have been breaking at the agony His Son was going through at least as much as His Son’s was breaking at feeling completely abandoned and bereft by the Father He had served all His life. God was in agony and God–not Father, nor Son nor Holy Spirit–could not halt or prevent it because we, scornful and cynical humanity, had brought things to such a pass we couldn’t even recognise God when we saw Him.
It might be presumptuous to think it, but I wonder if, in those sixty seconds, I actually felt the heartbreak of God and that that’s why I sobbed that intensely. If it was, I suspect it had to be brief because no ordinary human could survive if any of us felt the full force of it. Christians (including this one) like to talk about God’s heart breaking over our sin and our sorrow and suffering, and I believe that is there, too–that was what induced God to subject Himself to us marred images in the first place. But what I hear less about, and what I promise I had never viscerally felt like I did that day, was God’s parent-heart breaking over the murder of His Son.
Think about it. Imagine a parent whose child has just been murdered, and then, instead of the murderers being brought to justice, they just stand around the corpse and yuck it up because the parent didn’t stop them from doing it. And they further have the gall to assume, to the grieving parent’s face, that it’s because the parent didn’t care. Let’s just say it would have to be a pretty incredible reason for any decent parent not to have to at least attempted to intervene; I can’t even think of one. Sometimes people (including this one) use that idea to imply that God is a pretty crappy parent, but what if it just shows how ferociously selfless God’s love actually is? I have a hard time imagining how God could have consistently and continuously loved us enough to think that humanity–scornful mockers that we are–were a worthy trade for the life of His Son. But He must have, because He did it. And suddenly it hit me, all in that moment–the Son’s aloneness and the Father’s grief and longing to reach out to, reassure, rescue His Son–and I sobbed.