The Eve of the Incarnation of Our Lord (Christmas Eve)
24 December 2014
O God, who hast caused this holy night to shine with the illumination of the true Light: Grant us, we beseech thee, that as we have known the mystery of that Light upon earth, so may we also perfectly enjoy him in heaven; where with thee and the Holy Spirit he liveth and reigneth, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
Isaiah 9:2-4, 6-7
There is so much noise out there about what Christianity is or what it is to be a Christian. So many people out there are saying so many terrible things in the name of God, in the name of Christ. Everywhere you turn people are proof-texting from the Bible like mad, using scripture out of context to prove whatever point they are trying to make, judging and belittling those who do not agree with them. We see and hear so many distortions of the central message of the Gospel, what Alfred North Whitehead named “that brief Galilean vision of humanity.”(1) Indeed, Whitehead got it just right when he said that soon after Jesus' time the Church turned God back into an image of Caesar, the judgmental, unmoved and enthroned potentate on high, that “old-man-with-a-beard” in whom I do not believe. It can be disheartening. It is so easy to loose the plot.
So tonight on Christmas Eve, I am here to tell you that it is all, in the end, quite simple. Love incarnate is the only thing that matters. And Love Incarnate beats death every time. Don't let anyone tell you anything otherwise. Those two propositions—Love incarnate is what matters and Love beats death—sum up the two great Christian mysteries of the Incarnation and the Resurrection.
I spoke a few weeks ago about the notion that we are a religion of the Gospel—the Good News—and not a religion of the Book. There is a core message, a core belief, a core reality that sits at the centre of our faith: that God, whom we identify with as Love, made the World and proclaimed it good; that God expressed Divine Love into that world in the person of Jesus Christ and Love walked among us; and that God showed us in no uncertain terms that Love is the greatest power of them all, that Love destroys death. God, calling out to us in Love, made Love available to us and invites us to live as if this truly mattered, as if our very lives depended upon it. God makes it clear that we humans, made in the image and likeness of God, made partakers of that divine Word, of that divine Love, are free to partake of the Divine Love, to discover it within ourselves, to share it, cultivate it, and express it back out into that world. This is the call of the Great Commandment, that we are to love God and love our neighbours and, I would add, love the world that God has made and that we have been given to be its stewards, and that we show our love for God by loving each other and that very world.
Christianity is nothing other than this. This is the Gospel. Everything else is just interpretation. Tonight the message is simple: God has broken into our world, come near to us, taken on our condition, our vulnerability, our weakness, become the child in the manger, the unlikely hero of our story. This Christmas Eve we gather to once again hear how God, rather than teaching us a lesson, punishing or rewarding us from on high, or just leaving us to our own devices having set the whole thing in motion, engages with us in the here and now. God comes among us, breaks into our lives, overturns our expectations. God, the transcendent power identified as Love, is also immanent, here, present, with us, Emmanuel.
Over and again I have reminded us that these incarnations take place all the time, whenever Love is expressed into the present moment. Tonight, however, we remember that classic instance, that pivotal moment that changed everything, where past and present and future came together.
.... Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.(2)
T. S. Eliot describes that moment both in and out of time in which everything is gathered together, in which there is stillness, and yet when nothing is fixed, and from which moment new possibilities, new horizons open. Here we have the Incarnation we celebrate this night, that moment when everything stopped. Although most certainly those going about their business at Rome or Athens or Antioch or Byzantium or even in Jerusalem might not have noticed a thing, we know that in Bethlehem, in the manger, on the margin of that vast empire, all time was summed up in that moment when Jesus was born and “the Word became flesh and dewlt among us.” That moment is the still point from which the shift was made in the direction of Love. As Eliot put it, “Time present and time past / Are both perhaps present in time future.” Love indwelt in our world at this still point and changed the future, the future we inhabit as present.
In this moment, that Incarnation, that manifestation of Love at the still point was and is that child. God is no warrior, no great wizard, no sage prophet. God comes to us as the unlikely, marginal child who grows into the man who accepts the call to enter into a life of service, teaching, and healing, a life receptive to Love, a life pouring Love back into the world. The power that Jesus exercises in this world is the power of Love to overcome the worst that human beings can do to each other as they turn from Love to self-interest and power.
Tonight at the still point we re-gather so we can come back to the essentials. We stand in this liminal moment and in this liminal place between past and future, in this eternal present when Love becomes present with us, when we know and feel that God has acted and that something will change, that the direction towards which we are pulled has been shifted, and that Love is the end. We can resist, but in the end its power will overtake us. No matter what anyone else tries to tell you, this is the message of our faith, this is the message of the Church: that God became one with us, becomes one with us whenever we gather together to partake of and unite with his Body, becomes present with us over and over, and that we are made new. We can put aside everything else and live fully into the consequences of this monumental shift by loving, pouring out our Love into the world, and thereby becoming our best selves, divine lovers, forever united with God and with each other.
Andrew C. Blume✠
New York City
Kamehameha and Emma, 5 December 2014
(1) Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality
(2) T. E. Eliot, Four Quartets, "I: Burnt Norton" (1935).
© 2014 Andrew Charles Blume