Finding Ourselves in the Christmas Story

AngelLuke 1

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”[b]29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”[c] 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born[d] will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

 

native american nativityAs we come to Christmas day, I can’t help but think of the beauty of this rich story and its image of mother Mary, child Jesus, father Joseph.   I am struck too, by the point I recently heard my pastor, Rev. David Mateo, make about the Christmas story.  He said that often we think of the story in terms of how great and wonderful Jesus is, finding his star and following it.  But perhaps we need to see ourselves in this story, asking what star lies ahead of us that, if we follow, we can find our own worth.

I am helped by this analogy by recently having heard the beautiful folk/bluegrass rendering of Psalm 131 by bluegrass singer & songwriter and sometimes theologian Charles Pettee:

This song joins this beautiful Hebrew Psalm in inviting us to imagine ourselves as a child cradled in God’s arms as if God is our mother, quiet and trusting.  In a way, it pictures us becoming the Christ Child with God the loving mother Mary was to Jesus.

To me this beautifully pictures the theological idea about which Count Zinzendorf of the Moravians wrote. Jurgen Moltmann, in his book, The Source of Life, writes of Zinzendorf’s contribution:

 

mother-and-child“If the experiences of the Holy Spirit are grasped as being a `rebirth’ or a `being born anew’, this suggests an image for the Holy Spirit which was quite familiar in the early years of Christianity, especially in Syria, but got lost in the patriarchal empire of Rome: the image of the mother. If believers are `born’ of the Holy Spirit, then we have to think of the Spirit as the `mother’ of believers, and in this sense as a feminine Spirit. If the Holy Spirit is the Comforter, as the Gospel of John understands the Paraclete to be, then she comforts `as a mother comforts’ (cf. John 14.26 with Isa 66.13). In this case the Spirit is the motherly comforter of her children. Linguistically this brings out the feminine form of Yahweh’s ruach in Hebrew. Spirit is feminine in Hebrew, neuter in Greek, and masculine in Latin and German.

 

“The famous Fifty Homilies of Makarios (Symeon) come from the sphere of the early Syrian church. For the two reasons we have mentioned, `Makarios’ talked about `the motherly ministry of the Holy Spirit’. In the seventeenth century, Gottfried Arnold translated these testimonies of Syrian Orthodox spirituality into German, and they were widely read in the early years of Pietism. John Wesley was fascinated by `Macarius the Egyptian’. In Halle, August Hermann Francke took over `Makarios” ideas about the feminine character of the Holy Spirit, and for Count Zinzendorf this perception came as a kind of revelation. In 117411, when the community of the Moravian Brethren was founded in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Zinzendorf proclaimed `the motherly ministry of the Holy Spirit’ as a community doctrine for the Brethren. He knew very well what he was doing, for he wrote later: `It was improper that the motherly ministry of the Holy Spirit should have been disclosed to the sisters not by a sister but by me.’

new image of motherhood“As a vivid, pictorial way of explaining the divine Tri-unity, Zinzendorf liked to use the image of the family, `since the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is our true Father and the Spirit of Jesus Christ is our true Mother, because the Son of the living God is our true Brother’. `The Father must love us, and can do no other; the Mother must guide us through the world and can do no other; the Son, our brother, must love souls as his own soul, as the body of his body, because we are flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone, and he can do no other’ (see also my book The Spirit of Life, pp.158-9). Zinzendorf then also describes the influence of the Spirit on the soul in romantic terms of great tenderness. And in a German hymn, Johann Jacob Schutz describes the leadings of the Spirit similarly as a guiding `with motherly hand’.

 

“It is right and good that contemporary feminist theology should have discovered the `femininity of the Holy Spirit’ and reinterpreted it, and it is quite out of place and a sign of ignorance when official church organs in Germany believe they can scent heresy in this discovery.

 

“Of course the picture of the family of God Father, God Mother and God Child is no more than an image for the God to whom no image can approximate. But it is much better than the ancient patriarchal picture of God the Father with two hands, the Son and the Spirit. This icon of the Trinity draws on the feminine images used in Scripture for the Holy Spirit, as a reminder that women as well as men can bear the image of God.For there God is a solitary, ruling and determining subject, whereas here the Tri-unity is a wonderful community. There the reflection of the triune God is a hierarchical church. Here the reflection of the triune God is a community of women and men without privileges, a community of free and equal people, sisters and brothers. For the building of this new congregational structure, the motherly ministry of the Spirit, and the Tri-unity as a community, are important”.

Zinzendorf’s invitation to envision the Holy Spirit as our mother, from whom we are being born, then held, nurtured, and brought to full flowering as Jesus was by Mary; and Jesus as our big brother protecting, helping, companioning, and guiding us; together with the Father as our own father, is a powerful call to us on Christmas.

As mystic and theologian Meister Eckhart once wrote, “We are celebrating the feast of the Eternal Birth which God the Father has borne and never ceases to bear in all eternity… But if it takes not place in me, what avails it? Everything lies in this, that it should take place in me. “

dying child 2Discovering ourselves as ones born of God into this world, full of purpose and meaning, is I think ultimately an often forgotten lesson of the Christmas story.

What would it look like if you saw yourself as loved, embraced by God?  As one with a star ahead of your own life, leading you on to, in your own small way, join Jesus in shaping our world for beauty and healing?   In seeing yourself as the Gospels called Jesus as God’s Child, one whom whom God loves unreservedly, one deserving of love, in whom God takes delight simply because you are, and who deserves delight?

For me, two pieces of spiritual practice really picture personally what this looks like.

One is the old Gospel home I often sing with my patients on my hospice line, “Blessed Assurance”:

“Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine
O what a foretaste of glory divine
Heir of salvation, purchase of God
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood

“This is my story, this is my song
Praising my Savior all the day long
This is my story, this is my song
Praising my Savior all the day long

 

“Perfect submission, all is at rest
I in my Savior am happy and blessed
Watching and waiting, looking above
Filled with His goodness, lost in His love

“This is my story, this is my song
Praising my Savior all the day long
This is my story, this is my song
Praising my Savior all the day long”

 

Also it I picture it in my own way in a repeated prayer I use in my chaplain ministry:
“Oh God, who is nearer to us than the breath in our lungs or the warmth of the sun on our skin that refreshes us from the cold winter days,

Your word to us is love

It is your love that births us into this world

And to your love we all one day, inevitably, will return

And it is that same love that gives us strength to stand in all of our days

In days of wonder and joy which nearly floor us with gratitude and delight

In days of sorrow, heart, and pain that make our knees knock and legs tremble

And every kind of day between

When we cannot stand, it is that same love that lifts us up and carries us

As a child in their mother’s arms

So your love encircles us and all of our days

As the sun and stars encircle the earth.

Amen”

May you experience this embrace of love, your place in the Christmas story, this Christmas and all your days.

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

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