Jesus Awakens the Christ in him, so that we may all encounter the Path towards our own Self-Awakening.
Scripture: Luke 2:6-14 (MSG)
While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel. There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.” At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises: Glory to God in the heavenly heights, Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.
Turning the World Right-Side-Up
Glamour, money, travel, bright lights, loud music, fast cars, big homes, and beautiful clothes. Today, probably more than ever at any point in human history, our society has embraced the false realities of materialism and the notion that having more is the success of being famous, which will make us happy. You can see this notion play out in the world of influencers on social media, athletes, actors, and even our modern-day royals, as their lives are snapshots of moments that look flawless and are edited to stir up our own imaginations of a life that is wildly different from our own realities, which looks nothing like theirs does. Compared to them our lives are conventional and filled with the stresses of the world that we face. Therefore, watching them makes many of us feel that if we only had what they have, we will also then be as happy as they are. Thoughts that take us down self-destructive loops that make many of us think. If I only had their money, I would finally be happy. If I only had their body, I would finally feel comfortable enough with my own to be satisfied. If I could travel as much as they do, I would have the confidence that I need to be fully present in my own reality. And the worst one of all, if I only had their power, I would finally be able to change the way people see me, or how I am treated in this world. Yet the reality of it all is that most, if not all of the people that we call influencers, are created personas made to activate these feelings inside of us, so that we may be moved to buy more things, try new diet trends, eat more as a way to cope with out realities, and to not embrace our own sense of happiness.
The reason behind the success of these created personas comes from the fact that for many, the idea of success is wrapped around a conventionally accepted wisdom that defines what success actually is. This is why people gravitate towards the rich and the famous, for the human condition is filled with the struggle between the binaries of what is and what could be. A battle that too often leaves us embracing what is, because to imagine what could be, would require us to take the risk to break out of whatever convention keeps us safe and comfortable in our own created limitations. It becomes easier to accept that the reason that those people are successful is that they have something that we do not, and therefore, we recognize the realities that we will never reach their level of what we consider to be happiness and satisfaction. This dualistic dynamic, created by those with power, to continue a system that automatically generates an "us vs. them" reality, is something that was also at play 2000 years ago during the time of the birth of Jesus. For the Roman Empire and the Religious and Political Elites of Palestine, had all created narratives that served to defend the realities of the few in control of the masses, and the massive inequality that existed at that time. Stories like that of Cesar himself, had him born of a virgin, son of Jupiter, which gave him a demigod existence among mortals. This is not a new narrative, as centuries before, and centuries after, ordinary people like you and I, have decreed that their ability to rule over the masses is one that is divinely appointed and unquestionable. It is a convention that automatically creates an untouchable, uncosted boundary that creates the power dynamics that have allowed and continues to allow the injustices of our world. Yet, there is a story, that breaches the walls of these narratives, and one that rips open the veil between the world that is, and the world that can be. And that is the birth of the Christ, fully reflected in that baby boy named Jesus. A child that would grow up to challenge the conventional wisdom of his time, and launch a movement that would turn the world right-side-up by embracing a non- conventional way of looking at the world that was prophesied and written about hundreds of years before even Jesus was born.
How can we break through the confusion of this holiest of holidays, by taking Christmas away from the realm of materialism, and discovering the true meaning behind this break in human history?
Our gospel reading for today does something that is barely mentioned in any of the popular Christmas retellings. For today when people think about the birth of Jesus, they see that perfectly created, clean, and even beautiful nativity sets that have Mary, Joseph, and Jesus all dressed beautifully surrounded by other well-dressed people and being showered with gifts by the magi. Yet, the reality of that birth, in our own theological narratives, is one that was dirty, unconventional, and challenging to the powers of the time. In this story, the fullness of Love, the Vision of God for humanity, is born not in the grandeur of a lavish palace, but homeless and poor alongside creation itself. Love came into the world in the womb of an unwed mother, in a stable next to the animals of the field, and alongside those who at that time, and today, are viewed as "the least of these." In the time of oppressive Empires and Kingdoms, a new king and a new kingdom appear in the story of humanity, not to oppress, but to liberate the world from the selfdestructive loops of the human condition. For Christ, through Jesus, is the reflection of the fullness of God's Love, which exist inside us all. It is the messianic hope that we have explored throughout this season of Advent. A dream that speaks to the reality that in Jesus, the Universe itself, the fullness of the indescribable One, became meshed into the fullness of our humanity. And one that looks at the reality of the world as is and dares to imagine the world as it could be, the world as it should be.
Our hymns and songs of Christmas have beautifully captured this reality, with verses that speak of how the birth of Jesus changes the conventional wisdom and brings into the human stage a renewed vision of the possibilities of a world that is ruled by peace, hope, joy, and love, instead of one governed by violence, fear, sadness, and hatred. And in our Gospel story today, we see the perspective of the shepherds that were in the field the night that Christ was born. Shepherds, who at that time, represented those who are overworked, underpaid, and at the mercy of the powerful who controls the land, the animals, and the resources from their trade. For them, at that time, it was Rome, for us today, it is the power that we have given to the injustices of our own economic and political systems. Yet, in this messianic reality, we see that the Shepherds become the first to feel the shift in human consciousness, as they become witness to the end of one world and the beginning of another. These people are brought down to their knees by the sight of a fully awakened human being, born like them, alongside them, and embracing the same realities as them. This is why the messenger of God told them not to be afraid, for what they are experiencing is the fullness of the Christian divine, prophetic realities of the Apocalypse. And it is one that does not come with fire and brimstone, but surrounded by love in the safety of the arms of a young woman, who embraced her calling to be the one to bring Salvation into the world, and by the loving embrace of his adopted father, who not just embraced the unconventional realities of Mary's pregnancy, but saw beyond the expectations of his society, and choose to be in the life of both Mary and Jesus. In doing so, Jesus joins the generations of biblical characters who all serve as challenges to the conventions of their own world and time.
Oh Holy Night
This is why Christmas is my favorite time of the year, and it is also one of my favorite holidays. The reason for this is simple. Christmas is the time of the year, were 2.5 billion Christians around the world come together to celebrate a story that changed the world as we know it. Yet, there are those who say that this story is a work of fiction and can make reasonable arguments that state that Jesus could not have been born in December, and that the events surrounding that birth are nothing more than the imaginations of the Gospel writers themselves. And to them, I simply say, so what? So, what if this story is a beautiful theological work of fiction, created by the prophetic imaginations of the Gospel writers? I mean the words of our hymns and songs that we use to celebrate this momentous day comes from our own theological imaginations as we attempt to use our limited ability to communicate through language, art, storytelling, and music, a truth that is so universal, and so transformative that it continues to change the lives of people around our planet today. A story that comes alive in songs with lines that beautifully state "Long lay the world in sin and error pining, 'Til He appears, and the soul felt its worth" and... "Truly He taught us to love one another; His law is love, and His Gospel is Peace" and... "Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother. And in His name, all oppression shall cease." Words from Oh Holy Night, which first sang in 1855 in this country, almost a decade before the events of the Civil War that served as the beginnings of a shift of consciousness in this country as it prepared to deal with the sins of slavery, as the nation was dealing with the weight on its collective soul of an evil practice that was in all ways incompatible to the realities of the Kingdom of God. Therefore, it is not an accident that this song, as well as the theological narrative of the birth of Jesus, both came into existence at the very same time of momentous change in the course of human history.
Love Made Flesh
So even if you see the story of Christmas as a work of fiction from the prophetic imaginations of the Gospel writers. The fact that the story of Christ's birth still resonates with a quarter of the world's population and serves as an inspiration to all of those who are oppressed by the Empires of our time, that reality speaks to the larger "Truth" that exist in the collective human prophetic imagination. For whether the story of Christmas literally happened or not, is not really what really matters. What matters is that Christmas is a time for people to come together with family and friends, share in the joy of gift-giving, and celebrate the story of a child, whose life, death, and spiritual resurrection, changed the world then and continues to serve as an example of what a fully awakened human looks like. Because as this season of Advent has shown us, in that baby, the real hopes and dreams of the Hebrew prophets that were attuned to the symphony of God and looked at their own realities with a sense of moral indignation. A yearning in their souls that led them to imagine a world where the fullness of God's hope for all creation, would become meshed into the human condition. And for us, that hope is fully realized in Jesus, who becomes the complete reflection of God, fully engaged in the realities of our own humanity. A truth that lays the power of our own happiness at the core of our divine nature, which is our own ability to awaken the Christ inside of us. To fully live into the messianic expectations prophesied thousands of years before us, and one that can, and will set us free from our own self-destructive loops by awakening our authentic selves. Loops that enslave us to the thoughts "that if only I had whatever those successful people have, I would be happy, better, successful, and fully affirmed." Yet, Christ, fully realized in Jesus, and fully present at the story of his birth, lays out the path to a Way that liberates us from those that mentality that worships a false created narrative of our society, and establishes inside of us the truth of our own peace, hope, joy, and love that can awaken the fullness of our humanity. So this Christmas, let us embrace the words of the songs that we sing, the prophetic imaginations of those who saw a shift in human consciousness, honor the choices of Mary and Joseph to love and bring into the world that little baby boy named Jesus, and to fully submerge ourselves into the unconventional wisdom that is the Christmas story. So that we may fully embrace the fullness of the prophetic imagination of the Gospel writers and strive to make 2020 the year that we reflect the fullness of the Christ inside us all, so that the realities of the Kingdom of God can become a reality for all creation.