For thirty years the Christmas season was actually a source of stress for me as a minister, and frankly it’s a relief that I’m not having to saying something original on Christmas Eve, something that hadn’t already been said, again and again.
For decades I’ve thought that most Christians miss the point of Christmas. Actually, the point of the gospels as a whole. It’s not about Jesus. I’m pretty sure that the story is saying that if you’re going to walk in the way of the Christ, you’ll will be committing yourself to undergoing what he underwent. It’s an initiation story for those with the courage to declare oneself “all in”. Initiations are ordeals, not cake walks.
From the birth story, to his teaching, to the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension (notice that both follow crucifixion), the writers were trying to say that this is actually your story if you care to undergo it. This being Christmas, I’ll focus on birth. If I had it to do over again I would have preached more Christmas sermons on what Jesus’ birth has to do with our birth. His birth is declared to be a miracle, but then so is every birth. Every birth is an instance of incarnation. We perhaps should focus less on THE incarnation, and more on the miracle of spirit becoming enfleshed in you and me and our children.
Having just experienced the birth of our daughter (Breah) I can tell you that I’m in awe. To see the intelligence and creativity of the universe taking form and evolving in her is, well, a miracle. Especially so since we’ve been waiting for her to come for almost a decade.
The story of the birth of the Christ child is meant to be a vision of how humans should treat all births. It never happened the way it is portrayed in the gospels, but it’s a hell of a good story, an ethical story actually, when you hold it as an archetypal model for how all babies should be welcomed into the world. As such the story might be always happening if we had the eyes to see and the ears to hear.
Contrast it with modern birth practices. Because the dominant medical paradigm evolved out of a worldview of scientific materialism, babies and prenates are too often treated as little blobs of matter who are not aware — because awareness, according to this model. comes out of a brain and their brains are undeveloped. Consequently, hospitals may become torture chambers from the perspective of these sentient souls who have made a long and arduous journey to be dropped into the chamber of horrors. There are so many good-hearted, and highly skilled human beings working in our maternity wards, but when they enter the medical system as it is, they are unwittingly initiated into an entire worldview, one which does not take into account the sentience of babies. These little ones are poked and prodded and cut and whisked away from their mothers, and handled roughly, with too much haste and too much noise and too much equipment and too much light. At the slightest risk of liability to the hospital and medical staff, Caesareans are performed, and inductions are encouraged. We can be grateful for some of these practices when mother or baby are in actual danger, but as it stands we are increasingly defaulting thoughtlessly to intrusive procedures.
As a corrective to the modern birth scene read the gospel birth narratives to re-sacralize birth.
First, there is cosmological participation in the birth, as the star of Bethlehem points toward the time and place of his birth. How about if we imagined (as astrologers do) that the stars align for every birth? There are wise ones (Magi) in the story whose wisdom was formed in part by their knowledge of the transit of stars and planetary bodies. They knew something was up. The universe, these ones knew, is elegantly, perfectly aligned for every birth into the world and there is wisdom in knowing the configuration of the stars for the future life of our children. The Magi brought with them rare gifts to offer this little one. The gifts they lay at the feet of the babe, and that we also offer to our own, signify that they’ve come into the world because we recognize that in this long-awaited one (Emmanuel or God-with-us) the world is the recipient of fresh hope for a better future.
Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that it is to shepherds, who live under those stars and who spend long nights in and with the dark mystery, that the angels appear. These angels announce the birth of the long awaited one. When did we stop believing that angels gather to sing in the soul of each one of us? Perhaps we know too much in the modern scientific era? Maybe we haven’t spent enough time in the dark mystery that engenders humility when it comes to knowing. The angels are singing choruses of hallelujahs at the prospect of his arrival. Have you ever considered that the same thing happened at your birth, so great was the celebration in the heavens?
Long before the angels were singing the song of this soul, two pregnant mothers sang the songs of the souls of their babies. These two met and the life within their wombs, John and Jesus, leapt in recognition that they would be, each in their own way, delivering a message and a life dedicated to love. Mary’s song is known as the Magnificat. “My soul magnifies the Lord”… She got that her mission was to be a vessel for love and in this endeavour she magnified Creator. What if we each knew in our bones that being a parent is a high and holy calling. Indeed none higher. It is not a sideshow, (they are not a sideshow) while we get on with the “real business” of our lives. It is the main event. What is the song in your heart for this miracle? We are curating, through the one we’ve been entrusted, the future of the world. Christians affirm this when it comes to Jesus, “the Saviour of the world”. But what if every little one is destined to participate in the redemption of a broken world by transmitting the love that they’ve received through their parents? As I say, high and holy calling.
In the gospel of Matthew, before telling his version of the birth story, Jesus’ ancestry is articulated. Luke’s goes all the way back to creation. I think it is no accident that they listed these ancestors who would form what St. Paul called the “great cloud of witnesses” for his birth. They would gather at the stable to not only witness but to support the life of this babe. We’ve lost that sense of deep supportive connection to the ancestors that indigenous people felt, or at least, I know I have. But imagine that every birth, your birth and the birth of your children, was connected to this great tree of Life that is formed of generations that preceded us. I wonder if the gospel story is inviting us to re-imagine birth within the context of the living tree of our ancestry?
But there are dark forces in the world and we must not be innocents about this matter. Herod, who rules the world that Jesus lives in, hates the potential that love possesses to upend a world dedicated to greed, social status, and power. This Herod presence dwells in each one of us and we would do well to own it rather than deny it. Herod is the part of us that sees the blinding radiance of these infants that are born to us, and rather than amplify the light, we have an impulse to snuff it out. Why? Because it happened to us and we unconsciously re-enact this fear of light? Because it’s more light than the world can handle? Because why should they receive more light than we did? As I say, it’s dark. This is the legacy of trauma. It is Herod’s legacy, his trauma field, and he lives in us. We serve future generations best when we do the work of seeing what was done to us, grieve it, and evolve a compassionate heart as our sacred legacy.
The light of these little ones shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Unto us a child is born… What a mystery and what an opportunity.
Blessings and love,