Monday, November 30, 2020

"The Christ child...changes everything"

Alan Jacobs quotes from his introduction to W.H. Auden's For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio. I haven't read the poem but particularly liked these selections from Jacobs:
Auden had come to believe that all the matters he was strenuously reassessing — art, community, erotic love, politics, psychology — had been fundamentally altered by a single event: the entry of God into human history, what Christians call the Incarnation. The Christ child, as every character agrees in the poem he would write, changes everything. ....

According to the Christian liturgical calendar each year begins with the season of Advent, which uniquely concerns itself with past and future events: it remembers the first coming of the Messiah and looks forward to the day when, as the Nicene Creed puts it, Christ "will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead." To be a Christian is to live between these two advents, to be thankful for the salvation brought by the first Advent and to be soberly penitent in light of Christ's inevitable return in judgment.

The believer therefore lives poised on a cusp, with Before and After falling off on either side of the moment. We have no power to alter or delay the moment's arrival; it comes to us as decision because we must respond in some way to it. This condition is largely what Auden means by "the time being": to be faced with the necessity of radical choice, but a choice that must be made as a kind of leap of faith, since the fateful moment does not impose an interpretation, but rather calls one forth from us. ....
I discover that I have the poem in a book I haven't looked into for some time.

Alan Jacobs, "'We Have Seen Our Salvation': W.H. Auden and the Time of the Incarnation"

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