When I first began my ministry in 1969, the Christmas story was a literal story about the wonder and miracle of God’s love, the divine coming to us in human form that we might experience the gift of God’s grace welcoming us into his family. God showing us the way home so we would not be lost. We had our pageants and our decorations. There were concerts, gifts and excitement. Then as scholarly exploration of biblical texts became common knowledge, we came to understand that the Christmas story was really several stories and none of them necessarily factually accurate. The word “myth” was heard more; meaning the story was perhaps not factually true but was presenting an eternal truth in a human story.
That seemed to save the day and as a minister I searched for ways to highlight the eternal truths of God’s love and what better way than in the birth of baby. Hope and promise, peace and eternal life were offered to us because God came to earth in Jesus to share our life. The word incarnation became more common. God in human form; God in us. There was more emphasis on the Kingdom of God here and now and the presence of God in us. It generated a whole generation of people in search of self-discovery. New age was born – meditation, crystals and tarot cards. Yes, a whole industry was born for self-discovery, all piggy-backing on this new emphasis on the divine in us (immanence as opposed to transcendence). It got off track in some ways, but it did hold a truth that we had been ignoring: that God was not in heaven, but among us, right here, right now.
Science added a new dimension to the Christmas story in a subtle, or maybe not so subtle, way. Space exploration and the discovery that we were not the only galaxy in the universe gave us a whole new perspective on the nature and enormity of the place we live in. Slowly the idea of heaven and hell became symbolic, not real, places. Real states of being, but not “places up there or down there”. Faith was being reinterpreted by everyone. First “hell” was abandoned. How could a loving God assign anyone to eternal punishment? It didn’t seem too difficult for people to let go of hell. But most of us still wanted to go to heaven. Space travel showed us that heaven was not a destination place because we could see really far out into space and it no longer made sense. So it became a state of being. For many years we still accepted the Christmas story as the beginning of the most important story about our life. But if it is not about saving us from hell or saving us for heaven, what is this story all about? What is God doing? What is Jesus’ mission? And while we still go through all the motions and make Christmas about the best part of human nature: gifts, hope, peace, joy, love …. There is a part of me that wonders what is the truth? In the last years of my formal ministry I was not preaching so I didn’t have to put together a story that made sense to others. Just to me.
Setting aside contemplative time I turned to poetic writing to try to express what is true for me about the meaning of Christmas. Two of my poems (in different years) were:
Who knows what sacred life
We hold within us.
Sacred seasons and meaningful moments
Witness to its presence.
However, allowing it to take shape
Is our own work.
I am never ready for the love
And the surprise in the face of being.
Celebrate the Sacred Story
Of the Universe Unfolding,
Of Love Manifesting,
Of the Divine Unfolding,
And of darkness and light
Dancing in hope and promise
As it comes to pass through you.
What I like most about the Integral Christian Evolutionary Perspective is that it recognizes that all perspectives are real. I can enjoy the literal story, I can explore the mythic meanings, and I can celebrate that God is present and alive in all of life. I read an interview with Rabbi Rami Shapiro in the magazine Spirituality and Health. He was asked, “Does God exist? The Rabbi replied, “No, God doesn’t exist. God is existence.” With this thought I come to Christmas this year!
For all the struggle I still find it a story of hope, transformation and promise because I experience it and celebrate it as my story — a story that gives me a place and a purpose in my everyday living, recognizing the divine is still being born in the mist of chaos, negativity, rejection, confusion and mindless violence. The divine is still alive, hoping we all will take our place in saving the human race.
May this sacred season bring you a new experience of the holy in your life, and new energy for 2018.