By Bruce G. Epperly
Christmas Day is about celebration. In the darkness of winter, when the light is nearly eclipsed, there is a turning – and the days gradually become longer. The sunshine is reborn, bringing light to hearts and hands. At Christmas there is celebration, but also relief. We’ve lived in waiting for far too long. We have been lamenting captivity and fear too long. The naysayers’ voices have dominated the conversation far too long. We need to hear the voices of hope, courage, and amazement. We need to experience an incarnation – God with us – despite the concrete challenges of everyday life. Christmas proclaims the possibility a new day, a new life, and a new birth in all of us. Scrooge can be transformed from greed to generosity, George Bailey can find his way home and discover the beauty of ordinariness, and so can we. In Christmas, the voices of the angels ring forth, bringing joy to every heart.
Christmas is as much an inner as outer experience. There are lights and trees, but we need an inner light, the spirit of Christ, that shines in every situation in living and dying. We need the heart of a child, whether we are eight or eighty eight. We need to embrace giving and receiving whether we have little or much. In its focus on divine companionship, Christmas invites us to a change of heart.
Now we must admit that this year Christmas may be a “low Sunday.” After all, it falls on a Sunday and we will be competing with the festivities of Christmas morning – the presents and brunches. Regardless of attendance, we have good news to tell: God is with us in Bethlehem and in every life situation!
The Gospel of John’s Prologue is apparently oblivious to chronology or history as a series of events, including the birth of Jesus. Perhaps, the author believed that Matthew’s and Luke’s contrasting stories were enough for this emerging faith. Perhaps, the author was of a philosophical disposition and, in the marketplace of competing spiritualities, wanted to portray the life and ministry of Jesus as a reflection of God’s over-arching vision for history and human life and not an anomalous supernatural event. John is no deist, nor does he subscribe to the notion of a deus ex machina, who – like a Saturday’s parent – enters our lives dramatically and occasionally and then disappears from the scene until the next appearance. John sees Christ as cosmic: today, he would be comfortable with the vision of a 125 billion galaxy, 13.7 billion year-old, universe.
Christ, the Word made flesh, is present always and everywhere. There is a continuity and point of contact, contra Karl Barth, between the revelation of God in Jesus and God’s omnipresent revelatory and healing presence. Salvation and creation are one reality. Creation, in broad strokes, reveals God’s presence, and Jesus Christ helps us find our way to the God who is already present in our lives. Yet, the broad strokes of revelation are ultimately intimate and personal, addressing us in our particular culture, context, and life situation.
Christ is creative, life-giving, light-giving, wisdom-sharing, always enlightening, without boundaries or exclusions. While we may turn away from the light, there is still a movement of light in our lives. Without the Creative Wisdom of God, energetically moving in all things, we would be unable to live, breath, believe, or turn away. There is hope for every lost child, for “the true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” There is no getting around this “everyone” – there is no double predestination here, no eternal choice of saved and damned. God wants to save everyone, giving life and light to and through all things. Everyone is included in the circle of revelation and salvation, regardless of ethnicity, culture, or faith tradition.
John’s Gospel lives with the tension of kataphatic and apophatic – all things reveal God; yet, God is more than anything. We can testify, as John did to the Light, but the Light is always more than we can imagine. We can choose to turn away from Light, but our turning away never deters God’s deep desire to heal and save us.
Belief makes a difference, but belief is more than intellectual assent. It is a whole person’s receptivity and response to the living Christ. Belief opens up new dimensions of reality through which God can be more fully manifest in our lives. Those who receive Christ, who embrace Christ’s life, receive “the power to become the children of God.” We see Christ’s glory, and begin to live in ways that give glory to God and healing to the world. Christ wants us to be powerful rather than passive.
Isaiah 52 is a testament to God’s universal revelation. Sing and rejoice, for “all earth shall see the salvation of our God.” Isaiah affirms the “beauty of holiness” here as well. It is more than lights and trees, although these surely reveal divine wisdom; it is also about the wonder of cells and souls, galaxies and mitochondria. God’s witness is everywhere. God’s wisdom gently and subtly guides the universe, and will outlast all waywardness.
Psalm 98 proclaims the same universality. Our joyful praises are part of what Teilhard de Chardin called “the prayer of the universe.” In the spirit of Psalm 150, the song of the angels and the roaring seas, remind us that when we are in synch, everything that breathes praises God.
Hebrews also describes God’s universal revelation. Christ is not an exception to God’s aim at healing and wholeness. God has been actively seeking healing and wholeness in various times and places. Christ is the reflection of God’s glory, imprinted in all creation as well as ourselves. Christ’s wisdom speaks to us and through us – without exception.
This year – and every year – Christmas is shrouded in ambiguity. Darkness is the place of birth, but it is also the place of deception and destruction. Still, a light shines in every soul and cell. This inspires celebration today and hope for tomorrow.
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty one books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the Perplexed, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age. He is available for lectures, workshops, and retreats.