The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks; Christmas Eve—Year B; Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14 (15-20)
What is it about this night? It is dark and wet and late and winter in Boone, and it’s past some of our bedtimes—many of us are normally burrowed in for the night long before now. And yet, here we are. This night has a lock on us like a homing beacon—tracking us, calling us to this place. Is it the music that makes our heart swell in ways that transport us to some other realm? Is it the sheer beauty of the flowers and greenery? Is it the courage of the candle’s flame daring to throw its light into all that darkness? Is it the lure of the incense and clouds of smoke that strike a chord of awe? Is it the story, that old, old story that makes us cry out like a kid, “Please, tell it again!”—we know it by heart, we know every character, we know every twist and turn, but it doesn’t matter, we long to hear it again.
There is something about this night. It is the mystery of mysteries, and it is far too deep to try to fathom it alone, and so we come. We come together to embrace the mystery, to hold it, to gaze upon it, to let it fill us, to let it remake us.
And this is never as easy as it sounds. In fact, it’s quite costly; to embrace mystery will cost us our hard won control, and most of us will go to the mat before we will relinquish that. The rational part of our mind wants to get this night figured out, understood, and defined so that we know which box to store it in, so that we’ll know where to find it when we need it.
But mystery just won’t cooperate; it is always bigger, always much, much bigger.
Madeleine L’Engle, writer and poet, penned these words:
This is the irrational season
When love blooms bright and wild.
Had Mary been filled with reason
There’d have been no room for the child.
If you struggle with the how-could-this-be’s of this night, God doesn’t ask you to suspend your rational mind, but just don’t let it take up all the space. This night begs us, begs us to open up our mystical mind, to leap into the irrational season toward the arms that are now stretching up towards us. This night begs us to leave our cool, safe, observer role, and jump full-on into that love that blooms bright and wild. It doesn’t matter where your point of access is: the music, the beauty, the candles, the incense, the community gathered; it doesn’t matter where you enter the story: the sense of being on a journey, the loneliness of being shut out, the radiance, the fear that shakes us to the core, the amazement, the wonder, the glory, the pondering. All that matters is that you allow this night to pull you to the center—pull you right into the heart of God, pull you right to the center of your own soul where the fullness and majesty of God has always been pleased to dwell.
Incarnation. God made flesh. This has been God’s leap of love from the beginning of creation. The burst of energy and love that brought the entire universe into being and left every aspect of creation dancing with divinity—this was God’s first incarnation. The Infinite Presence poured into the created so that divinity would be mirrored everywhere. We who are made in the divine image, we who bear the divine breath—we, of all God’s creation, should know this most deeply of all. And yet, we cannot see our true nature. So, in the fullness of time, this Love, this Infinite Love who longed for us to know this Love and to know our place within this Love took the most radical step of incarnation. Constriction.
Cynthia Bourgeault spins this out so beautifully in her book The Wisdom Jesus. She speaks of this constriction as the sacrament of finitude that reveals the mystery of God’s longing to be known. She ponders, “Could it be that this earthly realm, not in spite of but because of its very density and jagged edges, offers precisely the conditions for the expression of certain aspects of divine love that could become real in no other way?” She continues, “Those sharp edges we experience as constriction at the same time call forth some of the most exquisite dimensions of love, which require the condition of finitude in order to make sense…When you run up against the hard edge and have to stand true to love anyway, what emerges is a most precious taste of pure divine love. God has spoken his most intimate name.”
Constriction. Infinite Presence wrapped itself in the constrictions and confines of our human flesh and human mind and human heart and human spirit to reveal to us, to awaken us, to bring us to birth again as the radiant, divine human beings that we are, capable of the most exquisite dimensions of love.
This child. This tiny, tiny child. This one named Jesus who is the Christ. This child is the homing beacon. The One in whom God and we are both called home. God calling us into the fullness of radiant divinity; our flesh calling God into the fullness of our humanity.
Just as we can’t stay on the sidelines tonight, tonight, God, Infinite Love and Presence, has left the sidelines, too. God and human flesh forever joined to help us remember, to help us re-member that it has never been otherwise.
This child is here to show us who we already are.
And the circumstances of his birth remind us that our own birth, our own awakening will happen in the most unlikely places at the most inconvenient of times.
Remember, neither Mary nor Joseph had planned on this child, and it took an angel and a dream to convince them that all would be well. If life has not gone according to plan (and whose life ever does), fear not, in the middle of whatever curve has come your way, God can be born.
Luke’s story begins with a journey that started because the Emperor Augustus issued a decree—“dogma” in the greek. Oh, if ever there was an unpopular word today, it is “dogma”, but even right in the middle of dogma, God can be born.
This birth took place at the margins because all the other spaces were too full. If you find yourself on the outside looking in, know that the outside is a place where God can be born.
Legend has it that this holy birth took place in a cave just outside of Bethlehem. If tonight finds you in the darkness of your own cave—God can be born there.
If your life is packed with the day-to-day grind of ordinary tasks and ordinary work, all that ordinariness can become the very field over which God’s glory will shine most radiantly. The heavens can sing and angels can find you, even when you are nowhere close to the center of action. Once your ordinariness has been pierced, don’t be afraid to give yourself over to the glory and let it lead you to that place where God is born.
If none of this makes rational sense to you, remember, this is the irrational season when love blooms bright and wild. Don’t try to understand it, but take a page out of Mary’s book—treasure all these words, treasure all these things, and ponder them in your heart. Ponder—“symballo” in the greek, it has the sense of throwing them all together, bringing all these things together in one’s mind, in one’s heart. It’s the very opposite of diabolical, which is to throw things apart.
Birthing always involves labor, and this night is no different. Open your mystical mind and let the mystery pour in from above and let it rise up from your heart until your whole being is born anew.
You are here this night for a reason, irrational though it may be.
Everything is conspiring against you to crack open your heart until it can resist no more. So let it wash over you and sweep you away. Let it fill you full to overflowing. Let the cry of the infant disperse all your distractions. Let your constricted humanity expand as Infinite Love and Presence fill your being. Be born again, and don’t even think about all the trappings associated with those words. With every fiber of your being, be born again. Embrace and be embraced by the God who loves you and all of creation from the inside out. If it’s all too much to take in, then just hold it in your arms, gaze upon it, fall in love with it, ponder it—bring it all together in your heart—your heart always knows what the mind cannot conceive.
Thank God for the irrational season when love blooms bright and wild. Thank God for the mystery of this night that bids us come. Thank God for the mystery of this night when all our longings, and God’s, find their home in one another. Amen.
The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
December 24, 2014