Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!
— Dr. Seuss from How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
Hidden and Revealed
Every year we hear the same stories. Mary, Joseph, shepherds, angels, foreigners – all on different journeys and all converging in Bethlehem. These stories, carols, church services, school plays: the same every year but also different. Different because we are different every year. Every year we bring ourselves to these stories, and we’re alway changing. We’ve had different experiences, we’re asking different questions. We’ll see something new, hear a detail we never noticed. A word, a phrase, a meaning will come to our aid in a new way.
The power in these stories is that t hey have the capacity to meet us wherever we are in life. They keep speaking to the world’s tensions and crises. The journeys keep crossing paths at Bethlehem.
An epiphany is defined as a manifestation of Christ. Franciscan author Richard Rohr, in Everything Belongs, gives his own twist to that definition: an epiphany is a place where God is both hidden and revealed. Perfectly hidden and perfectly revealed – like the manger or the cross. Not everyone is looking for those epiphanies, not everyone sees. But those who do will “gather together.” Their journeys converge in Bethlehem. Their hearts “thrill and rejoice.”
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw a child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
In Luke’s Gospel, it is the Jewish poor, the shepherds, who first see and recognise this birth as a manifestation of God in their midst. Perhaps this reflects the experience of Luke’s community and its emphasis on Jesus’ outreach to the marginal ones. In Mathew’s Gospel, it’s the Magi, these Gentile outsiders, who see a mysterious star and follow it. They recognise that the promises made to the chosen people are being fulfilled. How unlikely that they would be the ones to see and understand, while others who are much closer to the revelation are indifferent, or even hostile, to it.
— Mark A. Villano from Time to Get Ready: An Advent, Christmas Reader to Wake Your Soul
Related in the Spirit
The spirit of God is upon me….
God has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to heal broken hearts, to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and liberation to those in prison
— Isaiah 61: 1
The Spirit always connects, reconciles, forgives, heals and makes two into one. It moves beyond human-made boundaries to utterly realign and renew that which is separated and alienated. The “diabolical” (from two Greek words, dia balien, that mean “to throw apart”), by contrast, always divides and separates that which could be united and at peace. Just as the Spirit always makes one out of two, so the evil one invariably makes two out of one! The evil one tears the fabric of life apart, while the Spirit comes to mend, soften and heal.
In today’s reading from Isaiah, the prophet describes the coming Servant of Yahweh. It is precisely this quote that Jesus first uses to announce the exact nature of his own ministry (Luke 4:18-19). In each case Jesus describes his work as moving outside of polite and proper limits and boundaries to reunite things that have been marginalized or excluded by society: the poor, the imprisoned, the blind, the downtrodden. His ministry is not to gather the so-called good into a private country club but to reach out to those on the edge and on the bottom, those who are “last” to tell them they are, in fact, first! That is almost the very job description of the Holy Spirit, and therefore of Jesus.
The more that we can put together, the more that we can “forgive” and allow, the more we can include and enjoy, the more we tend to be living in the Spirit. The more we need to reject, oppose, den, exclude and eliminate, the more open we are to negative and destructive voices and to our own worst instincts. As always, Jesus is our model of healing, outreach and reconciliation, the ultimate person of the Spirit.
— Richard Rohr from Preparing for Christmas
We all want and need various certitudes, constants, and insurance policies at every stage of life. But we have to be careful, or they totally take over and become all-controlling needs, keeping us from further growth. Thus the most common one-liner in the Bible is “Do not be afraid”; in fact, someone counted and found that it occurs 365 times! If we do not move beyond our early motivations of personal security, reproduction, and survival (the fear-based preoccupations of the “lizard brain”), we will never proceed beyond the lower stages of human or spiritual development. Many church sermons I have heard my whole life seem never to move beyond this first level of development, and do not even challenge it. In fact, to challenge it is called heretical, dangerous, or ill advised.
The very unfortunate result of this preoccupation with order, control, safety, pleasure, and certitude is that a high percentage of people never get to the contents of their own lives! Human life is about more than building boundaries, protecting identities, creating tribes, and teaching impulse control. As Jesus said, “Why do you ask, what am I to eat? What am I to wear?” And to that he says, “Is life not so much more than food? Is life not so much more than clothing?” (Luke 12:23). “What will it profit you if you gain the whole world, and lose your very soul?” (Matthew 16:26).
There is too much defensive behavior and therefore too much offensive behavior in the first half of life to get to the really substantial questions, which are what drive you forward on the further journey. Human maturity is neither offensive nor defensive; it is finally able to accept that reality is what it is. Ken Keyes so wisely said, “More suffering comes into the world by people taking offense than by people intending to give offense.” The offended ones feel the need to offend back those who they think have offended them, creating defensiveness on the part of the presumed offenders, which often becomes a new offensive—ad infinitum. There seems to be no way out of this self-defeating and violent Ping-Pong game—except growing up spiritually. The True Self, you see, is very hard to offend …
… authentic God experience always “burns” you, yet does not destroy you (Exodus 3:2–3), just as the burning bush did to Moses. But most of us are not prepared for such burning, nor even told to expect it. The Islamic mystics seem to be the most honest here, as we see in the ecstatic and erotic poetry of Rumi, Kabir, and Hafiz. By definition, authentic God experience is always “too much”! It consoles our True Self only after it has devastated our false self. We must begin to be honest about this instead of dishing out fast-food religion.
Early-stage religion is largely preparing you for the immense gift of this burning, this inner experience of God, as though creating a proper stable into which the Christ can be born. Unfortunately, most people get so preoccupied with their stable, and whether their stable is better than your stable, or whether their stable is the only “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic” stable, that they never get to the birth of God in the soul. There is no indication in the text that Jesus demanded ideal stable conditions; in fact, you could say that the specific mentioning of his birth in a “manger” is making the exact opposite point. Animals at least had room for him, while there was “no room for him in the inn” (Luke 2:8) where humans dwelled.
— Richard Rohr from Falling Upward
The Pregnant Pause
Perhaps our mistake is thinking
that love will always come
in the shape we have known it:
a happy ending
a new beginning
In this pregnant pause
while the earth holds its breath
waiting for what
it does not know,
let us have the faith
that even we,
with all our wise
would not imagine
the shape that love
and instead just
have the faith
that it will come.
— Cheryl Lawrie from Hold This Space (Blog)
Guaranteed Ways to Miss the Hidden God
- LIVE your life at high speed. No exceptions. Run hard.
- STAY scattered and distracted. The more clutter and activity, the better.
- TAKE everything personally. Never evaluate. Agree.
- USE blame liberally. It’s so invigorating. I wasn’t responsible, you were. Everything’s your fault.
- DON’T laugh, especially at yourself.
- STAY tied to your past. Elevate it to greatness. Live remembering and longing. Or missing. Why do it halfway? Go for it.
- USE the word ‘because.’ ‘I can’t change, because.’ Because is so little appreciated as a solvent for responsibility. Try using because. This will work.
- NEVER question or think for yourself. Just keep moving and accepting. (Refer to #1 and #3.)
- CONTINUE to think of God as invisible and distant. Surely not present in this room. At this moment. Not while I’m reading a book.
- REINFORCE the belief that your life is going to happen soon. This is not it, not yet. But one day. Maybe when I finish reading.
— Paula D’Arcy from Sacred Threshold: Crossing the Inner Barrier to a Deeper Love