Saturday, December 15, 2012

Lost in Translation

Photo by juliaf

Just yesterday a gunman murdered 20 kindergartners and 6 school staff members in Newtown, Connecticut.  I spent yesterday buried in the news, numb with the shock of it all.

Yet today I am working on translating and perfecting my presentation of Christmas Carols in American Sign Language, so I can be ready for church tomorrow.  I believe in the true that has nothing to do with trees, elves, white bearded men in red suits, or greed, so I'm dealing with songs that celebrate the incarnation of God Himself.

It's been hard, hard work.  Not just because of the struggles that always come with interpreting from one language to another.  That's a challenge I actually enjoy.  Usually (for example), fitting the convoluted, implied-subject, passive-descriptive imperative form found in the single line, "Veiled in flesh the Godhead see" into ASL grammar within the confines of artistic style and musical speed...well, I would normally relish it. I don't actually know the right grammatical terms for all of it, but I can feel it in my heart, and I love to coax it out and watch it dance on my fingers.

Not this time.  Not with a soul that is stunned by the horror of yesterday.

It's so tempting to say that yesterday threw Christmas into the dust, that the bleating of manger-side sheep is drowned out by gunfire, that the cries of labor pains pale next to cries of terror and death, that the message of peace on earth has been disproven.  Rendered trite.  Annulled.

But, of course, the millennia that have passed since Christ's birth have been full of horrors.  If Christ's coming to earth could have been rendered meaningless, it would have happened long before now.

But how can we sing "Peace on Earth, and mercy mild" so soon after Newtown?  Can we only sing it wishfully, wistfully, as a prayer for what we hope will happen someday?

How can the truth of these songs not get lost in translation when "the real state of things" is interpreted to us by the hands of madmen?

How can "Peace on Earth" be communicated in a world like ours?  The first step is to remember that the song of the angels was not about peace.

It was about the Prince of Peace.

The angels didn't sing a sermon that told people how they ought to live peacefully.  They sang an announcement of the One who was, and is, Peace Incarnate.

Incarnation is not the same as interpretation.  Some things can't be expressed in language.  They have to become flesh and blood.

"The Word became flesh and dwelt among us..."  (John 1:14).

Humanity has tried countless ways to interpret the message of peace, but unlike any other communication, this one cannot truly be received without receiving the Messenger.

Oh, it is undeniably true that there are many good, peaceful people who do not know Christ.  They are as good as they are by the grace of God, whether they know it or not.  If He did not bestow such "common grace," Newtown would happen every day.  There is not a single good person on the planet; not one who, if left to his or her own devices, wouldn't become a horror (Isa 53:6, Isa 64:6, Jer 17:9, Mark 10:18, Rom 3:10).  So God gives a common form of goodness with the same mercy that makes Him send rain on both the just and the unjust (Matt 5:45).   It's a providence largely ignored.  It's also a providence that will someday be withdrawn, if I understand 2 Thess 2:7 correctly.

But every human being, even those with a measure of sweetness, kindness, and goodness, needs to be saved from their own sin.

This is the kind of message that the religious elite of Jesus' times could not stand.  The kind that made their rage murderous against the most innocent one who ever walked.  Think of it... a perfectly innocent adult, telling the religious elite that they needed to repent and turn to Him so they could be saved.  They wanted Him dead...and temporarily got their wish.

The world hates that message today, too.  Oh, they believe that some people need to be saved, for sure.  But they bristle at the thought that they themselves need to be saved from the evil within themselves, and that only Christ can do that.  They can't imagine that they could be capable of truly heinous acts, even though history is full of people who, under the right (wrong?) circumstances, did things they never thought themselves capable of.

If they're not a Hitler or a Klebold or a Breivik or a Lanza, they're just fine, thank you.

They want humanity to find a workable interpretation of the message of peace, but without the incarnation of the Prince of Peace in their own hearts.

And peace gets lost in the translation.  Because without Christ Himself... trusted, worshiped, indwelling... there is no power for peace with God (the ultimate peace) or for the truest peace with neighbors.

But with Him, everything is possible.  And there can be no doubt...if Christ had sat enthroned in the heart of Adam Lanza, conforming him to ever-increasing Christlikeness, including love of neighbor, love of enemies, peace, joy, righteousness...the Newtown Massacre would never have happened.  Christ's Spirit inside makes that much difference.

And so I must Sign the songs of incarnation tomorrow with a heart full of hope, and joy, and peace.  Because the message has not been annulled, nor can it ever be, as long as The Eternal One lives in people's hearts.

Does He live in your heart by repentant faith?

Isaiah 9:6 (ESV)
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

John 14:27 (ESV)
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. 

1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 (ESV)
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

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