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St. Lukes Blog

St. Luke's

St Luke's Episcopal Church
170 Councill St
Boone, NC 28607
828-264-8943

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Christmas Day

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks; Christmas Day—Year B; Isaiah 52:7-10; Psalm 98; Hebrews 1:1-4, (5-12); John 1:1-14

Last night, we received the gift. This morning, by the light of day, we start to unwrap it, unpack it, pick it up and look at it from every conceivable angle, trying to understand what made our hearts leap last night.

Today, as in the beginning, the Word pierces the quiet and all creation reverberates with God’s own self. No one has ever said it more beautifully than John in the prologue to his Gospel—chapter 1, verse 1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” God poured into every fiber of creation. And that incredible crescendo at verse 14, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”

Word made flesh. Incarnation. God revealed in human flesh; God revealed in our flesh; our flesh dripping with divinity. Incarnation—that mystery of mysteries that is so hard to comprehend; so hard to wrap our minds around. It is enough that our hearts get it, but our minds yearn to plumb the depths, and on this Christmas morn, in the clear light of day, it sure seems we ought to at least try.

So, strap in for the ride. I’ve chosen Cynthia Bourgeault to guide us. What follows is an extended reading from her chapter on The Incarnation in her book The Wisdom Jesus.

From a God’s-eye view of creation, the real operational challenge is not sin and evil; it is posed by the vastly unequal energetic frequencies between the realms. How can the sun touch a snowflake? How can the divine radiance meet and interpenetrate created life without incinerating it? This is the ultimate metaphysical koan—to which Christianity proposes as its solution the mystery of the incarnation.

This realization, in turn, opens up a whole new line of insight into John’s statement, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” The Son, in this wider metaphysical context, is no longer the one who bails us out or who rescues us from our fallen state but the one who becomes our bridge between the realms. Recognizing the enormous difficulty of our mission, Jesus comes to accompany us on it, advocating for our human finitude in a way that respects its integrity but doesn’t allow us to get trapped in it. As in the traditional theological understanding (but with a very different flavor), he becomes our meditator. Standing at the confluence of the two vastly different orders of being, he offers his own life as the sanctuary between them.

As we have seen already, these great metaphysical paradoxes lend themselves more easily to poetry and metaphor than to the theological scalpel. One of the classic images Christian mystics have used to portray this cosmic mediation is actually very ancient, from the Old Testament. In the book of Exodus (3:1-6) the story is told of how Moses, while tending his father-in-law’s flock of sheep in the Midianite wilderness, suddenly comes upon a bush fully engulfed in flame and yet miraculously intact. The miracle is quickly revealed as an angel of God speaking through the flame. But for the Christian desert hermits later inhabiting that same wilderness, the burning bush became a symbol of Jesus himself: all flame, yet perfectly intact within his finite container. And there were those among that desert fellowship who yearned for that same incandescent ground. In one of the most famous of the desert parables:

 

Abba Lot went to Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba, as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace, and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?” Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame.”

Bourgeault continues: Would it be possible for us, too, to “become all flame”? Could our own lives become such a perfect fusion of infinite love and finite form that light would pour from our being as an actual physical radiance? I have indeed seen this light in more than a few realized masters toward the end of their earthly journeys; it is the fully revealed mystery of human life lived as conscious sacrament. How we get there is the secret Jesus will unfold for us through the course of his own consciously sacramental life. But our first step in joining him on this journey is to recognize that his incarnation is not about fall, guilt, or blame, but about goodness, solidarity, and our own intimate participation in the mystery of love at the heart of all creation.

 “And the Word became flesh and lived among us,” inside of us, the perfect fusion of infinite love and finite form, the light that shines in the darkness, which darkness cannot overcome, mediating between the realms, showing us how we “can become all flame.”

This mystery isn’t just a gift to be unwrapped, played with for a bit, and put on a shelf to collect dust; this mystery puts our whole human endeavor on an entirely different footing. Your flesh is holy, my flesh is holy, all flesh is holy. You life is holy, my life is holy, all life is holy. Infinite love has been fused with our finite form. Our work is to live our lives as a conscious sacrament of this greatest of mysteries. Our work is to always be unwrapping the gift of our lives to reveal the mystery of love.

As far as you can be about this work, and then, like Jesus, “if you will, you can become all flame.”

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC

December 25, 2014

 

God has found you. God is born in you. You are home.

The Rev. Cynthia K.R. Banks; Christmas Eve—Year C; Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14 (15-20)

Tonight we gather in the candlelight—darkness wraps around us holding this space in mystery, much like a womb holds its sacred life within. The air is thick with incense; the music rings in our ears; all the makings of a holy night.

Tonight, we celebrate the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord; tomorrow, we celebrate the Feast of the Incarnation, but we cannot keep them apart. Incarnation dares to proclaim God is made flesh, but Nativity tells us something so very important about just how this God chose to be made flesh. God could have chosen any point in history, and any human being, in which to reveal the fullness of divine nature, but God chose this particular point in history, and God didn’t choose a hero to elevate; God chose to enter our flesh the way every human being must, nine months of waiting in the darkness of the womb and then blood and sweat and pain and gasping for air. God chose to enter our human flesh with absolute vulnerability, completely dependent on humanity to nurture this little incarnation of divinity, completely dependent on others to help fan this divine spark into the flame that would ignite the souls of all who would touch his Presence. It says something about God that God chose this particular path—not the way of power, not the way of strength, not the way of status or station, but the way of weakness, ordinariness, smallness, vulnerability.

No matter how many times we hear this story, it always takes our breath away. Nostalgia is a piece of the puzzle. This night, so steeped in tradition and memories of Christmases past, always pulls at our hearts, but it’s not just nostalgia for days gone by. Webster’s reminds us that nostalgia in its deepest and truest sense is the state of being homesick. That is why we come back year after year to hear this old, old story. Because, over the course of the year, and over the course of our lives, we lose our way, we forget where home is, and our hearts yearn to touch home again—we are homesick in the deepest sense of the word. Our heads may try to distract us with all kinds of questions about this night, but all that is just surface chatter—our hearts have locked onto this story like a homing beacon, and our heart knows this story is true, deeply, deeply true. Our hearts know that this story will help us touch that place inside of us that knows it’s home, that knows that it has always been home, that knows it will always be home, that knows it is inconceivable to lose its way, that it is impossible to become separated from the One who made home in our flesh.

The challenge of this story doesn’t come in figuring out if this story is real and true; our hearts already know that it is real and true. But the challenge comes in remembering that this story is real and true for us, tonight. And it doesn’t matter what shape our heart is in as we come to this night.

It doesn’t matter if you are here at someone else’s behest. Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem at the behest of the Emperor Augustus and his desire to count heads across the empire. The miracle of birth will still occur.

It doesn’t matter if you’re heart has been way too full of concerns, and there’s just been no room for God—Joseph and Mary fared no better in Bethlehem. The miracle of birth will still occur.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve exiled parts of yourself, cast them out into the cold, relegated them to the place where animals feed. The miracle of birth will still occur.

It doesn’t matter if you think of yourself as unimportant and forgotten—the shepherds felt the same. The miracle of birth will still occur.

It doesn’t matter if you are completely unorthodox in the eyes of the tradition, much more spiritual than religious—the magi from the East certainly were. And the miracle of birth will still occur.

It doesn’t matter what brought us here tonight, and what shape our hearts are in now that we are here. The miracle of birth will still occur.

God has found you. God is born in you. You are home. This has always been true, ever since God first breathed divine life into our flesh, and we came alive, but we human beings have an amazing capacity to forget who we are.

So tonight is about remembering. Tonight is about being awake to the miracle of who and what we are. Tonight, God cries out in the cry of an infant and reminds us that we have all witnessed the miracle of birth. Not just as observers who are head-over-heels-in-love with this baby, but we are witnessing the miracle of birth from the inside out. God is born in your flesh and in my flesh—we’ve come home yet again to the mysterious, unfathomable truth of who we are—sons and daughters chock-full of divinity, radiant with light.

This is the truth of this night that shatters any illusions we might have that we are somehow beyond the reach of such love. Meister Eckart grasped this when he penned the poem BUT HE WANTED ME sometime in the 14th century. He writes:

I could not bear to touch God with my own hand
when He came within my reach,
but He wanted me
to hold Him.
How God solved my blessed agony,
who can understand?
He turned my body
into
His.

God wants us to hold God, always, forever.

“God has turned my body into His.”

Even if we knew before who and what we are, tonight we are all born anew. And in the cries of the Christ Child, may you sense tears of joy in your own heart. You are home. Your soul can rest. God is made flesh, and your flesh is now one more revelation of God’s beauty and magnificence. It’s a crazy gamble on God’s part; it’s a crazy gamble on ours. But isn’t that always the case when two become one? Tonight, the miracle of birth has indeed occurred. God’s, Christ’s, and yours. Amen.

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC

December 24, 2013