BY REV. RICK BECK |
My wife Wendy and I share our home with an apricot standard poodle named Moses. He’s eight years old and has served as an illustration for any number of sermons. This Christmas I found him lying on the sofa, his chin resting on the arm, gazing at our nativity. (In reality, he is watching for someone to walk past our house at which point he will jump up and announce to the world that someone is walking by. But let’s ignore that for now and stay with my fantasy.)
My first thought was that Moses was contemplating the birth of Jesus and I felt invited to pause and do the same. So much of Christmas is influenced by commercial hype and religious businesses. How might the meaning of Christmas deepen if we spent Advent and Christmas in silent contemplation? Now that December 25 is past maybe we can make time to assume the posture of Moses, gaze upon the nativity and let the figures speak to us. Maybe he is so lost in the experience that he imagines himself as part of the scene. What character does he relate to? (He vaguely resembles a sheep.)
What do you experience when you gaze upon the nativity? What do you hear, see, smell? What feelings move you and what might these feelings be telling you? Imagine yourself as one of the characters in the scene. Can you imagine yourself as the Christ Child? If not, why not? Pause from reading and spend time with these questions in silence.
So, what happened in the silence? What Divine wisdom does the Spirit of God want to share with you? How might your understanding of incarnation be growing?
I believe when we are infants our experience of life is union. We experience everything as an extension of ourselves, yet we are not conscious of this union because we have no disunion to compare it to. But it doesn’t take long for that to change. We experience the pain of hunger or a dirty diaper. Later we build a tower of blocks and someone knocks it down resulting in confusion, hurt, and anger. As we grow into self-awareness, we strive to develop an identity that distinguishes us from everyone else. Disunion, competition, and fear of losing become a driving force in our lives. Eventually, we reach an age when we discover that the things, beliefs, and achievements that we thought defined us and made our lives meaningful really aren’t that important and we reclaim an identity rooted in union. But this time it has a context, union with intentional relationships. Our true identity, the way God sees us doesn’t distinguish us “from” others but identifies us “with” others. Our focus becomes less on winning and more on “oneing”.
Jesus’ life and teachings opens the door to union, to mature spirituality. Distinctions become blurred. “What you do to the least of these you do to me.” (Mt 25:40) “No longer Jew or Greek, slave or free male or female”. (Gal 3:28) There is only union, even with God – not because we are so good but because God’s love transforms life.
But the temptation is to create distinctions, us and them, win or lose, right or wrong, good or bad, human or Divine. Jesus was born into this world not to stand between us and God but to reveal God’s intention for all of creation…to reveal the Divine essence in all people. This is a mystery that rational thought can’t grasp – In spite of our tendency to sin, we are the incarnation of God, what Richard Rohr defines as the union of spirit and matter, what the writer of Genesis calls the Image and Likeness of God in human form.
The birth of Jesus invites us to participate in God as he did. When we love, we are participating in the image and likeness of God just as Jesus did. When we embrace life with joy we participate in the image and likeness of God. When we face conflicts with peace and patience we participate in this image and likeness. Kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, forgiveness, compassion, humility, forbearance, mercy, hope are all ways we participate in God.
Incarnation does not make Jesus better than anyone, it makes him one with everyone and everything. This is what his birth invites us to recognize and embrace in ourselves. In this, we are what the apostle Paul calls “the body of Christ”. We are all one – no distinctions, whether shepherds, sages, saints, new parents, or a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, whether sheep, cows, angels, or a poodle named Moses. As we approach Epiphany to celebrate the arrival of the Wise Men let us remember that we are not simply called to believe in Jesus. We are called to be Jesus.
About the Author
Rev. Rick Beck, retired Moravian pastor having served in team ministry with his wife Wendy in all three districts of the Northern Province of the Moravian Church in North America. Rick is currently offering spiritual direction through the FCJ Christian Life Centre in Calgary, Alberta where he also trains and supervises spiritual directors. He also consults churches wishing to establish spiritual direction groups in their congregations.