|Reading 1:||Reading 2:||Reading 3:||Reading 4:||Alternate Reading 1:||Alternate Reading 2:|
|Isaiah 9:2-7||Psalm 96||Titus 2:11-14||Luke 2:1-12||Isaiah 52:7-10||Hebrews 1:1-4|
By Bruce G. Epperly
Change is in the air. Hope is on the way. God is with us in a humble manger and in all the quotidian adventures of our lives. The promise of new possibilities is emerging—in ancient times and in our own precarious personal and planetary situations. This is no time for passivity, but the challenge is in front of us, the adventure of embracing something new and unexpected, and midwifing the embodiment a reality that will change everything. Around Christmas we always hear the comment, “Why can’t we have Christmas all year round? Why can’t we experience the joy and expectation of childhood and the possibility of deeper, more loving relationships?” With the unwrapping of presents, a big supper, and after-dinner naps, the spirit of Christmas need not fade away. We can commit ourselves to becoming new creations daily, walking in light and love instead of stumbling around in ignorance and alienation. We can embody Christ, bringing the light of life and the darkness of germination to our worlds.
“The people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light,” proclaims Isaiah. Years of exile and anxiety are being eclipsed by the vision of a new era of divine companionship. A new burst of divine energy will awaken our cells and souls. The birth of a child ushers in a new age, far beyond the hoopla of the Mayan calendar or the prognostications of the Age of Aquarius. Birth brings the possibility of a new pathway toward the future, a restoration of the nation’s fortunes, a recovery of healthy agency, a reconciliation of old rivals, and the dream of planetary peace. We need to “see” or “experience” the light and this requires our agency. Wake up, look around, discover seeds of new life, and nurture them. Light luminaries to guide the pathway to healing future. Rejoice in the lights of Christmas! Christ is born in the messiness of Christmas shopping, pastoral calls, family budgets, and visiting relatives.
The Psalmist proclaims, “Sing a new song,” a song of praise and joy of Eros toward what gives life and love. Glorify the holy one for the divine brings new life and peace, not with a sword, but with transforming hospitality that embraces the Earth as well as humankind. Centered on God, we experience the world in new ways, letting go of the small and defended self, the anxious and warring nation, and pledging allegiance to a greater self, a greater loyalty, and a greater love.
Grace brings new values and a new way of life, Titus reminds us. God’s salvation is for all, but we can be oblivious of the grace in which we live. Confused by the cares of the world, seduced by consumerism, and agitated by fear, we protest that only the wellbeing of ourselves and our kin matters to us. Lines are drawn, walls are built, and common ground denied, and so our souls shrink to the size of the crisis of the moment or the safety of “people like us.” Old ways of life drown out the sounds of the Christmas angels with their message of salvation for all. In spite of our busy schedules, “Turn around, reclaim the vision of new life, grounded in living in expectation of new creation in ourselves and the world, allowing grace to train us ‘to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly.’”
Good news can be terrifying. The shepherds tremble before the angelic greeting. The holy family—like many new families— shakes in fear and wonder at the birth of their first child. Angels speak to shepherds camping on lonely fields and city streets, in maternity wards and hospice rooms, in detox clinics and board rooms, “Don’t be afraid of this new life. It will turn everything upside down. It will usher in a new era for you and you will need to become a new person. God is with you, giving you a dream of what you can become and the energy to embody it.” New life means the transformation of the old and that can be painful. New behaviors, new attitudes, and new priorities attend every new creation and if we are to nurture the divine and human novelty in our midst, we must take responsibility for becoming the change that calls us forward.
The angels run to Bethlehem and are forever changed. Like persons who have had mystical or near death experiences, they live into a new reality where old limits no longer exist. As Luke says, “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.”
At some point, the local joins the cosmic. The manger is connected with the birth of the universe. The coming of God’s child is part of a larger fabric of God’s wisdom and word moving through the universe. All things come into being with the same energy as this little Child. The Christ, the Revelation, is a natural event, not a supernatural oddity, emerging from the very elements of the universe. Revelation is not stingy, but generous, giving life to cells as well as souls, particles as well as planets. The true light enlightens all, transforming all who embrace it. While “long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, [but] in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds,” so says the author of Hebrews.
Christ’s birth enlivens and enlightens all things. Even dark matter shares in divine luminescence. Even lost humanity is touched by God. The birth of Christ awakens us to the generosity of grace that speaks through prophets, magi, seers, enlightened ones, imams, and yogis, not to mention small children, hurried shoppers, and weary parents. Christ’s birth illumines all things and calls us to a higher vision and broader allegiance, to become midwives of God’s light in our lives and in all the world.
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty two 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. His most recent text is Emerging Process: Adventurous Theology for a Missional Church. He also writes regularly for the Process and Faith lectionary. He is currently serving as Visiting Professor of Process Studies at Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Lincoln University. Contact him by email for lectures, workshops, and retreats.