Advent 4, B/Christmas Eve
20 centuries ago in Jerusalem, far from home, far from help, far from hospitality, Mary birthed a baby boy. It wasn’t such a big deal at the time, at least not so as anybody important would know about it. The child’s parents oohed and ah-ed, of course, in a tired and stressed out sort of way. That’s a parent thing. Every parent sees the hope embodied by their offspring. Maybe all of us see the promise of a newborn. Joy and wonder lie intrinsic in new life.
Still, he hadn’t done anything out of the ordinary yet. Suckled for milk, maybe, soaked some swaddling clothes with spit up and pee. The child was newborn – still in what my husband affectionately calls the leaky sack of fluids stage – fluid in, fluid out. Normal baby stuff.
Now, there were the shepherds. That was unusual, of course. You don’t get shepherds traipsing around the countryside looking to pay homage to the illegitimate offspring of a teenage girl every day. But they were shepherds. Unclean. Stinky. No judge would even hear their testimony – too notoriously unreliable. Lowest possible rung of the social ladder. Their proclamation meant nothing.
Except we’re still proclaiming. Still celebrating. Still pausing just for a moment, just for an hour; pausing in the busyness, the cacophony of life to praise God. Still encountering the light in the darkness. Still gathering to sing and pray and break bread together in His Name.
His name is Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His name is Emmanuel—the God who is with us—who is made out of the same stuff we are and who is made out of the same stuff God is and who will not let either of us go. (BBT)
British poet U.A. Fanthorpe (b. 1929) was the first woman nominated as Professor of Poetry at Oxford University. She wrote this about the moment of that first cry which marked the babe’s ignominious arrival.
This was the moment when Before
Turned into After, and the future’s
Uninvented timekeepers presented arms.
This was the moment when nothing
Happened. Only dull peace
Sprawled boringly over the earth.
This was the moment when even energetic Romans
Could find nothing better to do
Than counting heads in remote provinces.
And this was the moment
When a few farm workers and three
Members of an obscure Persian sect
Walked haphazard by starlight straight
Into the kingdom of heaven.
In the course of ordinary events, among ordinary people, God became human. “Eternity invaded time. The sacred embraced the profane. Before yielded to After.” (Daniel Clenendin, Journey with Jesus.)
Fr. Richard Rohr describes “the true self” as “where you and God are one”. Christmas, the birth of God into humanity, Emmanuel, represents God’s gift of God, what one author describes as a radically reciprocal reality. (Karoline Lewis, Working Preacher) A loving presence within. A light in the darkness.
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness–
on them light has shined…
Father Rohr goes on to explain that the True self “does not choose to love as much as it is love itself already (see Colossians 3:3-4). The True Self does not teach us compassion as much as it is compassion. Loving from this core of your being is experienced as a river within you that flows of its own accord (see John 7:38-39). From this more spacious and grounded place, one naturally connects, empathizes, forgives, and loves everything. We were made in love, for love, and unto love.”
Rowan Williams, the former archbishop of Canterbury, writes more recognizably for the less mystic, less saintly among us, of the need to take Christmas into tomorrow and the next day and next month and all the days and months and moments of our ordinary lives: “here we are daily, not necessarily attractive and saintly people, along with other not very attractive and saintly people, managing the plain prose of our everyday service, deciding daily to recognize the prose of ourselves and each other as material for something unimaginably greater — the Kingdom of God, the glory of the saints, reconciliation and wonder” (Rowan Williams, Where God Happens, 2005).
20 centuries ago in Jerusalem, far from home, far from help, far from hospitality, Mary hummed and sang and soothed her baby boy, born into squalor, born into love. One poet describes the song that can be heard in that young mother’s lullaby.
Listen for God singing the world into being.
Look for the light shining in the music.
Notice this cosmic song, this act of Creation,
rising in you, unfolding, radiating,
shining in the darkness. (Steve Garnaas Holmes)