Friday, December 31, 2010

Lit up

•Christmas Eve 12/24/10 The Rev. Este Gardner Cantor
• Isaiah 65:17-25 Psalm 98 •
• 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 •
• Luke 21:5-19

The people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light. Those who lived in a land of deep darkness — on them light has shined… For a child has been born to us, a son given to us.

Every Christmas Eve, in every year, I feel the dawning of a wonderful sort of season of innocence, a kind of enchantment not usually celebrated in our society. Fifty years ago CS Lewis said that he felt the deepest need of humanity was for a “re-enchantment” of the species. He certainly did his best to create that, with his wonderful tales of the miraculous.

On my vacation I stayed with friends who have a remarkable 7 year old child. She was making her list up for Santa, in whom she firmly believes, as she also believes in God. But even she has figured out a scientifically sound reason for believing in Santa: “I have a hypothesis about this” she said. Every year she places the cookies and milk in front of the fire place Christmas Eve and every year they are gone in the morning. She reasoned that since her mother never stays awake past 9:00 and her father is lactose intolerant, it just had to be Santa. She has a sunny and grateful attitude that helped support my own seasonal optimism. As I say in the back of the car with her she said, “Its really lucky that I have you back here to talk to. My parents are always sitting together in front and I have nobody here. But then, I am lucky in so many ways.” Back home she wanted to show me every stuffed animal she has, wanted to do summersaults for me, show me how to knit, introduce me to her dog, all her toys, and she said a beautiful grace at supper. She reminded me that Jesus said we have to become like little children before we can enter the kingdom of heaven. She reminded me of what C.S. Lewis insisted was desperately needed fifty years ago, and it seems to me to still be needed today: what he called the “re-enchantment” of our species.

Traveling from Maryland to Washington DC we went from the innocence of that child to the innocence of an old friend of mine who had completely and uncompromisingly kept his pacifist hippie ideals. He had started the Washington Free Press, the Washington Free Clinic, the Washington Free School. He was always working for peace and justice. Since I had seen him, he and his girlfriend of 35 years had adopted 20 foster children. Theirs was not an entirely peaceful kingdom, but they certainly did their best, and their was not a drop of cynicism in the proceedings.

When I think of the innocence of children at Christmas time, I remember the eight Christmases during which I rehearsed children for the annual Christmas pageant at All Souls Church. Every year, a child from 6 to 8 years old would play the part of the angel Gabriel. And every year, the angel would look earnestly into the eyes of the child playing Mary, and say
"And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son”

And I would look into their earnest and innocent eyes and realize that they had absolutely no idea exactly what that meant. They had only a child’s instinct for the miraculous, and no special knowledge of the incarnation.

I do not have the blind, accepting, miraculous faith of a child, and so the meaning of the incarnation has developed slowly over the years for me. I stumble on. When I first came back to the church, I approached Jesus (although he was loudly calling out my name) with great caution and suspicion. I was eased back into the fold only because my priest recommended that I read a book by Marcus Borg and felt assured that I could accept Jesus of Nazareth, the historical Jesus, and I had to go no further. I was truly "Meeting Jesus again for the first Time" which is the title of the book.

Borg talked about what the human Jesus — the "Pre-Easter Jesus" must have been like. What extraordinary eyes he must have had, how brilliant his language skills were, how passionately wedded to justice and compassion he was. The book barely deals with what he calls the "Post-Easter Jesus," a term I now find woefully lacking to describe the Risen Christ. But at first this was helpful to me. When faced with the incarnation, with the divinity of Jesus, I just didn’t want to go there. But slowly, I began to perceive a curious image seemingly just out of my peripheral vision whenever I thought of the incarnation. I seemed to see brilliant rays of light emanating from something which refused to come into focus front and center, but nonetheless streamed blazingly just beyond the edges of my field of vision. There was a brilliance I couldn’t understand, and could not even fully see, that I began to know was present, nonetheless.

It finally came to me that I was seeing those wings of light on either side of my peripheral vision because whether or not I knew it, something was embracing me. I began to have some sense of the great and overpowering Newness of the incarnation, as expressed so heart-breakingly in the precious newness of the infant Jesus. And I began to understand that the miracle of God’s presence in Jesus Christ has little meaning (at least for me) if we did not relate it to Christ’s presence in us- in ALL of us. As I searched for a way to understand the incarnation I also searched for a prayer I could say at waking that would bring this great newness into my life every morning.

Upon opening my eyes one anxiety-ridden, guilt-stuffed dawn, I suddenly realized I could simply repeat the words of Paul: "If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation. Everything old has passed away — behold, all things are become new." (2 Corinthians)

I finally saw my first flicker of the image of brilliance that had been eluding me, that explosive and irrevocable NEWNESS, blazing right in front of me when I read the words of Father Pierre Tielhard de Chardin:

It is done. Once again the fire has penetrated the earth. Not with the sudden crash of thunderbolt, riving the mountaintops. Does the Master break down doors to enter his own home? Without earthquake or thunderclap the flame has lit up the whole world from within. All things individually and collectively are penetrated and flooded by it, from the inmost core of the tiniest atom to the mighty sweep of the most universal laws of being. (Song to the Earth)

The incarnation- this birth of hope, of light, of innocence and newness in us all- causes us and all things to be lit up from within. It fills us up, embraces us and causes us to be fully alive.

And because the wonder of it is too great to define or comprehend, the best we can do is, like Mary, to behold it, to hold it, and to treasure it in our hearts.