Christmas Eve—Year C, Isaiah 9:2-7, Psalm 96, Titus 2:11-14, Luke 2:1-14 (15-20)
“The people who walked in great darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined,” so says the prophet Isaiah. So often we focus on the darkness, the deep darkness, and its juxtaposition to the light. And certainly this year, we have no shortage of darkness, and we yearn for the light to shine. But there is something else here also calling to us, “The people who walked…” The people who walked—everyone makes a journey to come to this night. Many are the reasons we come out late on a cold, dark night at the end of December.
We might come for the music that transports us to another time, another place, another realm. We might come for the smell of incense that awakens our mystical senses. We might come because it’s what our families have always done; that’s frankly what landed Joseph and Mary in Bethlehem in the first place. They simply had to go and be with their people. Maybe it’s nostalgia for Christmases past, maybe it is hope for some new start, maybe it is a yearning so deep we don’t even have words for it, maybe we just can’t stay away from a newborn baby. Many are the reasons we come, and honestly, it doesn’t much matter why we have made this journey; all that matters is that we are here. A birth is happening, and once that process begins, all bets are off. However you thought this might unfold is desperately out of your hands now. Something new is coming to birth, and your life will never be the same.
So, set aside all your expectations and open yourself to the vast possibility of this night. Our rational, well-conceived, tightly controlled, orderly sensibilities will not serve us now. Maybe in the light of day that approach would work, but not in the dark of night. Labor has begun, and there is no turning back. Birth takes us to the threshold, and words usually fail us there. Tonight belongs to the mystics and the poets. Theirs is the language that can help us wrap our hearts around this night.
In the sixteenth century, St. John of the Cross penned a poem called “If you want”:
If you want,
the Virgin will come walking down the road
pregnant with the holy,
“I need shelter for the night, please take me inside your heart, my time is so close.”
Then, under the roof of your soul,
you will witness the sublime intimacy, the divine, the Christ taking birth forever,
as she grasps your hand for help,
for each of us is the midwife of God,
each of us.
Yes there, under the dome of your being
does creation come into existence eternally,
through your womb, dear pilgrim—
the sacred womb in your soul,
as God grasps our arms for help,
for each of us is His beloved servant never far.
If you want,
the Virgin will come walking down the street
pregnant with Light and sing…
We may have thought we were coming to gaze upon this birth, maybe as a distant uncle or aunt might, deeply interested but not intimately involved; come to “oooh and aaaah,” come to adore, but not much more. But the poet makes clear, The Virgin is walking down the road, pregnant and needing shelter, knocking on the door of our heart—is there space, is there room? We cannot stay as an observer of this event; we are asked to participate, fully, wholly, in the flesh. But if we can grant her entrance, her and the Holy One she bears, if we grant them entrance under the roof of our soul, we will witness the sublime intimacy, the divine, the Christ taking birth within us. She grasps our hand for help; we are privileged to midwife God, each one of us. We are drawn into the orbit of this birth; we are brought into the intimate circle, into the blood and sweat and struggle and wonder of it all. God needs our help to make God’s way into this world.
But the journey doesn’t stop there; the journey continues. Yes there, under the dome of your being does creation come into existence eternally, through your womb, dear pilgrim—through your womb—the sacred womb in your soul…You aren’t just the shelter; you are the very womb…as God grasps our arms for help…God cannot do this without our flesh. Incarnation. God is born this night in Jesus, yes, but his incarnation is also ours; God made flesh in us. If incarnation means anything, it means that God has shed the heavenly observer status to pitch the divine tent in our human flesh. God has traded in the comforts of the heavenly places for the trials and tribulations of the human journey.
We are not the only ones who journey this night; God journeys, too. God filled us with God’s image at creation, and now God fully commits to that image in the lived experience of our all too human lives.
God cannot do this without your flesh—the wonder of God’s creation come into existence eternally through you. Can you wrap your heart around that—not your head, but your heart? Your head can’t grasp this; it is impossible, but your heart can leap where your head cannot go. You aren’t just a member of the team bringing this birth to pass; you are absolutely, intimately central to it. You thought you were coming to gaze on a child in a manger, but this night is about the birth God is longing to bring to pass inside of you. Can you give yourself over to it? Can you let this unfold in your heart and mind and soul and flesh?
We come tonight because something in us yearns to be born anew. Something in us yearns to have God swallow up our flesh. Something in us yearns to “Sing the new song,” of which the psalmist sings. We journey here tonight because our hearts long to know God in the flesh, and tonight God meets our desire full on and pours every last drop of Divine divinity into our frail human flesh and sets the night ablaze with glory. A glory that filled the skies and bid the shepherds come. A glory that lit even the darkness of Isaiah’s land. A glory that is beyond our imagining. A glory full of grace and truth. A glory meant for you, and for me.
If you want, the
Virgin will come walking down the street
pregnant with Light and sing…
Dear sisters and brothers, you are radiant, and all creation is singing with you, even “the woods shout with joy.”
Don’t stay in the waiting room waiting for this birth to be announced. Let your whole being proclaim the good news that God has come into the world, and neither you nor creation will ever be the same.
This birth changes everything, if you want.
The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
December 24, 2012