I’ve had the pleasure of talking with two people, each conversation and relationship completely independent of the other, in the past few weeks, both of whom were reared in the Orthodox branch of the Christian faith. If you are not familiar with Orthodoxy, their worship services are incredibly rich, symbolic and meant to invoke a sense of mystery; a “typical” Sunday service would be several hours in length and involve chanting, worship leaders going to and from the altar which is hidden behind a screen or iconostasis, incense and many other elements. Both of these former Orthodox worshipers now worship in a United Methodist church. They have made the move from one tradition to another for varied reasons, but both love the tradition from which they come. And both – very aware of what I do for the United Methodist family – were reluctant to say anything that I might receive as a criticism. But both, after conversation, confessed the same thing. Much as they love things about their new church home, they are worried that we (United Methodists and most Christians around them since Orthodoxy, while in the USA, is primarily to be found in eastern Europe, the eastern Mediterranean world, and Russia) are “too casual” about approaching God. “God opened his heart to us in Jesus but we can act so casual about it, “one of my friends said. “I want to show respect when I approach the Most High.”
And so we had a discussion about incarnation: God “condescending” in ancient language to enter human life. We don’t use that sort of language often but I think it holds a certain truth for us: we are redeemed because God with infinite compassion reaches out (or condescends) to us in Jesus.
I recently read a part of Marilyn Chandler McEntrye’s Christ, My Companion where she quotes Jonathan Edwards, a Puritan pastor from early in our country’s history: “There do meet in Jesus Christ infinite highness and infinite condescension.”
As I contemplate what that means, I cannot help but be thankful that the God of the Universe enters human life, and in the entering redeems us and all our experiences. God comes out of infinite goodness; God comes with (to quote an Orthodox prayer I love) “sweet condescension.”
May we live in the joy and hope of that God, come to us and coming again, in Jesus.
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