Out of the Mouths of Babes

IMG_0417  …And Jesus Paid Attention

From an early age my nieces were told bible stories. (One thing I’ve come to realize over the years is that whether you are part of a faith community or not, it is important that our children hear the bible stories. The rest will take care of itself.)

My nieces were told the bible stories from an early age. My sister always started off the stories by saying to the girls ‘now pay attention’. One Easter, my sister was showing off a bit, as parents do. She asked then three year old Ashley “what did Jesus do at Easter?” Ashley thought hard.  You could see her little mind working. Then the little light bulb came on and she said “he paid attention.” Well, it sounds like resurrection doesn’t it.

At Easter Jesus paid attention. St. Paul would agree. Attention  is defined as to wait upon, to take care, to minister, to serve. Isn’t this precisely what Jesus did. He paid attention to who he was; he paid attention to God as his Father and his relationship with him; and he paid attention to the needs of the people around him. He cared, he waited upon and ministered to them. Listened to them. Told them stories. (Guess he figured the rest would take care of itself as well.) And as a result it would appear that at Easter God paid attention to him. Throughout Paul’s letters he is asking his audience to pay attention to who they are because then they are paying attention to the Christ-within. Paying attention to oneself, ones’ community and to the Christ-life is to live life in Christ.

This might be a good definition of faith as well. Paying attention – focusing our hearts, minds and imaginations on how Jesus paid attention to who he understood himself to be. Jesus paid attention to the greatest human need: to be loved. That love took many forms. If we can see ourselves reflected in his life and love, to care about and for others, then we incarnate Christ in our lives today and to others.

As Jesus carried his cross up the dirty, rock littered road, he was paying attention. To his life and to those he loved. To us. The attention Jesus paid turned the cross from a sign of death to the tree of life.

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For the Love of Christ

 

couple on bench watiching sunset   Lent is on the horizon. I will be spending another forty days with St. Paul. (I have just finished the Advent series in this blog entitled The Birth of the Word in the Soul.)

Paul wanted to bring Christ to the world. He wanted to bring the world to Christ. His letter are love letters, written to the Christian communities he established and cared passionately about. There were no half measures with St. Paul.

Paul’s Letters to the budding Christian communities were centered on Transformation. Transformation in Christ. A transformation that was life-changing for Paul and is life-changing for all of us, for all those who put their faith in Christ. The following prayer from Ephesians is at the heart and soul of what that transformation was, and remains for  us today.* This prayer then is the summation of St. Paul’s Letters. The goal, as I see it, of his work and our lives.

This, then, is what I pray, kneeling before the Father, from whom every family, whether spiritual or natural, takes its name:

Out of his infinite glory, may he give you the power through his Spirit for your hidden self to grow strong, so that Christ may live in your hearts through faith, and that, planted on love and built on love, you will with all the saints have the strength to grasp the breadth and the length, the height and the depths, until, knowing the love of Christ, which is beyond all knowledge, you are filled with the utter fullness of God.      Ephesians 4:14-19

Isn’t this the goal of Christian life. To come to realize the  fullness of God within. And in our very ordinary and daily lives. This fullness comes to us in the love of Christ.  This is what Paul wants us to know-the love of Christ. This love is within, hidden in our inner most being, in our selves.

The hidden self is the Christ-self. The Christ  who is within each of us, waiting to be discovered, inviting us to follow him, to grow strong in his life and love, and lead us into the fullness of God, the One he called Father.

  • Ephesians was most likely written by one of Paul’s companions. However, it truly reflects Paul’s prayer for the Christian communities and may have been prayed, heard and then transcribed by one of his companions and incorporated into this letter.

The Birth of the Word in the Soul – Part VII

The Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us. The Word is one of the metaphors in St. John’s gospel that speaks to Jesus’ identity. The Word was in the beginning of the unfolding universe. For King Solomon, Wisdom, the divine Sophia, danced with the Creator as he spoke the world into existence. In the unfolding drama of Jesus’ birth, the Word become flesh is once more empowered by a woman, amidst the ordinariness of life, to a struggling nation, in an obscure town, where those to whom he first comes impart to Jesus his heritage, his longing and his mission to Israel, soon to become captive to another empire that would take his message and put its stamp upon it, for better or for worse.

The sword that would pierce Mary’s heart is the sword that would pierce her son’s side, their hearts the saving symbol of the heart of God intent upon loving the world from the manger to the altar of the cross, where worship is no longer a mother’s song but the very body and being of her son. Mary’s first prayer will be Jesus’ last. As he prays to his heavenly Father in the garden at Gethsemane before his death, Jesus utters let it be as you would have it. As Mary accepted his life, he too will accept his death, from mother to son, the faithful surrender to God’s design for their lives. As Jesus takes his last breath, a lone centurion stands beneath him, recognizing his true identity, his first Roman follower, worshiping him in the place where a voice has gone silent. No ideology can embrace this moment.

            This is the moment that brings us to true compassion, a compassion that continues to transform the world today. From the heart of the manger in Bethlehem we are fed; our hearts filled with praise springing forth in song, where the worship of God becomes the artistry of our lives just as it did in the people of Luke’s narrative. There it is real, human, enfleshed, ordinary, giving birth and giving witness to Jesus in the world. In this we are with them, with him, in the purpose and passion of his life, to his God and Father, our God and Father as well.

            A whole nation stands in an old couple and one young girl who said let it be. It is Luke’s way of saying what was will be saved, transformed by what is to come. For Luke, it is the good news placed in the story of the improbable advent of a savior. The old embracing the new, rejoicing, blessing Yahweh with their lives. The Lucan Jesus is welcomed into the world by devout people, whose lives of adoration became the manger in which he is set. His beginnings are humble. His end seemingly a humiliation. Though dedicated to the simple habit of their ritual, waiting for the promise to be kept, the story of Jesus’ beginning, like his life, is clearly a narrative of paradox and reversal. For those who first touch Jesus, the very ordinariness into which he comes admits Yahweh’s extraordinary new deed into their midst; into a world waiting for Yahweh to take them in his arms once more and keep his promise to them.

            They hoped for what they could not see, what they could only envision: the restoration of Israel. They stand in the empty Temple of Yahweh, in the gracious space of his presence, his promise to them their only adornment, age-weary prayers an incense rising, carrying their hopes to the unseen God. Silent for generations, now abandoning the laws of nature to grace, giving the world his only begotten, a small hope vested with great promise.

This promise is God’s spirit moving upon the body of the earth, bringing substance from the void, a child from the womb of a virgin, life from the tomb, the cross an empty manger once more. A soldier stands beneath the cross looking up. He blesses the son of God and another advent begins. A small hope grown in a lifetime, experienced, followed, loved, blessed with a woman’s life, a life of joy and a life of sorrow. A life that followed him from the moment of his conception until he stood in another garden, another Mary searches now not for knowledge but for love. He stands beside her and beckons her to rise. Just as Mary rose up to greet Elizabeth−women bearing Christ to one another, he bears himself to this other Mary, who will bear witness to his return−come back to a woman, as he once originated by the power of the spirit from his mother’s womb, then leaving the world an empty manger once more, where with each season we await the improbably advent of his return.

©2014 Cathie Horrell.  All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

Birth of the Word in the Soul Part VI

Carl Jung says Jesus lives our unlived lives. He is speaking of the Christ-Self in each of us that must be awakened if we are to achieve the fullness of our humanity. Both testaments are treaties on how we are able to achieve the fullness of our humanity. In the letter to the Ephesians, * its author includes Paul’s pray that the hidden self grow strong, that Christ may live in your hearts through faith, and then, planted and built on love, you will have the strength to grasp the breadth and the length, the height and the depths, until knowing the love of Christ, which is beyond all knowing, you will be filled with the utter fullness of God.  It is this hidden self that Jung is referring to; the realization of the God-life within us. Across centuries both men acknowledge that Jesus is the incarnation of the sacred Self, the embodiment of the sacred humanity that is our birthright. From Genesis to Revelations we are shown that we are inherently ordered to the sacred, to that which has within it the possibility at each turn of becoming the sacred reality for which we are meant. Jesus is the becoming thing in us. He is the embodiment of that which becomes itself in God. With each day we attend to his birth within us.

 We are seeded with the Christ-self like the sacred seed planted in Mary. We are invited to give life and meaning to that seed, to attend to its growth, so that who Jesus is we too can become. For we are also heirs to the promise going out from the first pages of Genesis. The promise that we are sacred and meant. As we journey with Jesus, we join with Mary and Elizabeth, as partners of the promise, to awaken and give birth to the Christ-Self. This is our let it be to the God who is ever renewing the world in his image. Just as his spirit came upon the mother of Jesus in his great act of loving us and the world, by the grace of his spirit we also become the waiting manger for the birth of the Word in the soul.

Like the ancient rabbis who lovingly held the Torah in their arms, the Word become flesh is now carried in the arms of his parents to the temple on the day of presentation, in accordance with the Mosaic Law. There Mary and Joseph encounter an old man named Simeon. He takes Jesus in his arms, giving thanks and praise for he knows he is holding the salvation of Israel in his arms. As Simeon blesses the parents of Jesus, he tells Mary that a sword shall pierce your heart. It is a sword that will lay bare the hearts of many, the sword will spill the life blood of her son upon the bitter ground of misunderstanding and his rejection.

Jesus will return to the Temple when he is twelve years old. By then he is a young man who knows his scriptures so well he is able to discourse with the rabbis, forgetting it is time to return home with his parents. In Luke’s account, the last we see of Joseph is when he and Mary spend three days searching for their missing son in the crowds who have come to Jerusalem for Passover. In Matthew’s infancy narrative it is after the visit of the wise men to Bethlehem that we last see Joseph. In this sequence, Joseph, prompted once more by an angel, leads his family to safety in Egypt, to protect his infant son from Herod, who is intent on murdering the already rumored king of the Jews.

After the incident in the Temple there is no record of Jesus’ life until he goes to meet John at the Jordan River. Yet there are clues to the early influence his family had on Jesus. His parents surely shaped the man he would become. At times he must have seemed as enigmatic to them as he often appears to us today. From the recorded accounts of his life, it is evident Jesus was well-versed in the sacred writings of Israel. From his parents Jesus learned to be attentive and faithful to Torah, exhibiting a respect and reverence for the faith of his people, the law and the Temple. When he teaches the people in parables, his words ring with authority, demonstrating his command of the Hebrew Scriptures. From Joseph Jesus learned carpentry, but it is a trade he would abandoned at some point, like John before him. Perhaps it was there, working at Joseph’s side or at his mother’s knee learning his scriptures, that he realized a new trade, that a new task had been set before him, and he went to it most likely knowing from his mother early on that he was destined for something singularly special.

At his side Jesus learned from Joseph, the man entrusted by God with his care and upbringing, how to care for those with whom he would be entrusted. Just as Mary’s attention and fidelity shaped Jesus, certainly he was shaped by the father we know little of. After Jesus’ childhood, Joseph is never mentioned again. The assumption is that he is no longer living. If indeed Joseph died before Jesus’ public ministry that might explain why Jesus’ public life had to wait until he was almost thirty years of age, long past the age a Jewish man would have taken up a profession. Perhaps Joseph entrusted the safekeeping and livelihood of his family, Jesus’ mother and siblings, to his first-born before he passed on, just as Jesus would entrust his mother to the care of the disciple standing at the foot of the cross with her. Could it be that in John’s gospel, when Jesus says he has not lost one of these you have given me, he is also thinking of the family Joseph entrusted to him? And one has to wonder if the father whom Jesus addresses as Abba, Daddy, isn’t at times Joseph, the carpenter from Nazareth, who guided the boy’s hands over the wood as he fostered and protected Jesus, who he knew would eventually be about another Father’s business.

©2014 Cathie Horrell.  All Rights Reserved.

*The Letter to the Ephesians is not attributed to Paul, but to one of his companions.

 

Birth of the Word in the Soul Part V

Mary’s response to this miracle of birth is simple and concise. Let it be. In the moment of her assent, assured of its possibility, Mary’s faith shatters the seeming limitations of this world, so the fullness of God can find its expression in the fullness of humanity. Mary’s fidelity to her heritage and to Yahweh inaugurates the renewal of the kingdom, God’s reign as the place of promise, now realized in her son. As the Spirit of Yahweh enters into the mother of Jesus, the place of promise is no longer only a land, but a way of being, the ever-abiding-yet-to-come kingdom of God in the human heart, begun under the heart of a woman.

Mary’s let it be is the life-affirming response running through all of scripture. From a woman who considers herself a handmaid, by her assent, Mary becomes co-creator with Yahweh, open, responsive and receptive to the sacred spirit that overarches human finitude to bring about that which is no longer bound by time. Be it child or image, painting or poem, or the life lived authentically in response to the spirit hovering over the waters of this world, we, like Mary, give worship to that same spirit in each new day, in each new creation we bring forth, ever open and attendant to its advent.

As we sift through the gospels in order to make a response to the question Jesus put to his disciples and to us, who do you say that I am, we do well to look first to his mother. What she was, he will become. His first lessons came from her; his last instructions are for her care. She is present from the beginning of her son’s life until its end. From Bethlehem to Calvary, from the manager-cave of his birth to the rock-hewn cave where his body is placed after his death, Mary will watch Jesus grow and she will watch him die. The first place Jesus goes when he comes out of the tomb is to his family in Galilee. For a few brief moments a mother will hold her son again. After he goes to his Father, Mary is present at Pentecost when the spirit of her risen son is poured out upon her and the disciples, giving birth to the community of believers, just as it conceived her son in the temple of her belief.

The angel tells Mary that her kinswoman Elizabeth is also going to have a child.  As soon as the angel departs, Mary is off to share her news with Elizabeth, who is overcome with joy at Mary’s greeting.  At this greeting, John, the babe in her womb, leaps for joy. This leap of recognition spills from his mother as she cries out Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Elizabeth’s happy words to Mary come from the song of Deborah and Barak when Israel triumphed over Canaan. As these two women stand at the threshold of their lives, Luke uses the triumphal events of Israel’s past to telegraph the triumph their sons will have over foreign rule and foreign hearts, to bring their people safely home to Yahweh.

Mary’s response to Elizabeth’s jubilant song also springs from within her. My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. From the depths of her soul she reaches back to the sacred writings of Israel, to the poetry of the woman Hannah who took a similar path to the one Mary is about to embark upon. Her song magnifies the wondrous deeds of the Lord God of Israel, wrapping her unborn son in the blanket of his destiny. She knows she is blessed. She knows she will give to the world the man who will magnify the same Lord with his life, so much so that he can call him Abba, Father, and tell us that to see him is to see the Father.

 Mary’s Magnificat is taken from the ancient canticle of Hannah, as Hannah surrenders her son, Samuel to Yahweh in service in the Temple. Like her kinswoman, Elizabeth, Hannah was beyond child-bearing age and was mocked because she was barren. She prayed to Yahweh for a son who would, as Elizabeth intones, take away her humiliation. And Yahweh gave her Samuel. And she gives Samuel back to Yahweh, just as Mary and Elizabeth give their sons who, like Samuel, will rescue Israel from her enemies and go on to be great leaders.

In the Magnificat the voice of Yahweh resounds again, echoing from Malachi, reiterating that the covenant made with Abraham has not been dashed upon the rocks of their oppression, but lives in the flesh and blood of two infants whose destinies could not have been foretold or imagined. One will be the unlikely messenger of the promise; the other the embodiment of that promise.

There is an irony here not to be missed. When he became their leader, the people pressured Samuel for a king but Samuel repeatedly refused. Eventually, however, he relented. In the end he had been right to refuse them, for the choosing of King Saul was the beginning of the end for the nation. The twelve tribes would shatter. When John and Jesus come on the scene, the Jews living in Judea are no longer the unified tribes of Israel but rather divided into often quarreling sects under Roman occupation. Once more they want a king. A powerful militaristic leader like David who will save them from their oppressors. But Jesus, like Samuel, refuses to take to himself the mantle of kingship. In the four gospels Jesus speaks more of himself as a shepherd than a king. He saw what the people did not. The shepherds who came to the manger were a sign in themselves. Their presence announced that a shepherd-leader had come among them. It is part of the paradox of his life that King of the Jews became the title that mocks Jesus’ death, though his death would not deter the advance of the kingdom he came to bring about.

©2014 Cathie Horrell.  All Rights Reserved.

Birth of the Word in the Soul Part IV

Luke’s narrative opens in the Jerusalem Temple. It is the same Temple from which Jesus will later make his final fateful journey. Zechariah, a priest of the order of Aaron, is in the Temple performing his priestly duties. The angel Gabriel, the first of many who make up the chorus of Luke’s gospel, appears before him standing at the altar in the Holy of Holies where Zechariah serves.  Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth are a couple on in years. He and Elizabeth are childless. But now he is told by Gabriel that his wife, believed to be barren, will give him a son. His prayers have been answered. With the incessant do not be afraid of the Lord’s messengers, Gabriel’s announcement imparts the mantle of the prophet Elijah on their unborn son, naming him John, delivering a not-so-subtle indication of the trajectory of John’s life. From being the joy and delight of his parents, to the commission to bring the repentance and return of the whole nation to Yahweh, even before his conception, John has his work cut out for him.

This first annunciation happens during the hour of incense, the rising smoke of the Temple offering calling the people to prayer. Unbeknownst to the waiting multitude, they are also being called to be among the first witnesses to their own saving. These are the first of the many crowds that will shadow Jesus throughout his life. From the outset, both John and Jesus draw the attention of many people in Judea and the surrounding countryside. From the people waiting outside the Temple to the neighbors who will rejoice along with Zechariah and Elizabeth, the births of these two extraordinary children, who will change the face of Israel and the world, is not to be a singular blessing for their parents alone, but an experience for the multitude and the many.

When Zechariah emerges from the Temple he is unable to speak, struck dumb by Gabriel because he openly dared to doubt the angel’s words.  He can communicate only in signs. Yet when he emerges it is evident to the people that Zechariah has had a vision. Luke sets these events squarely in real time, noting the hour of the day, lest we get lost in the other-worldliness of angels and visions.  It is three o’clock in the afternoon, known as the ninth hour. This will be the same hour in which Jesus breathes his last. Luke too is communicating in signs. He is signaling to his audience, already familiar with the sacred writings of Israel, something more telling about these events.

Zechariah returns home mute. He is able to indicate, however, to Elizabeth that they are to have a son. We do not hear Elizabeth’s response to this revelation until later, when she is visited by Mary. All we are told at this juncture is that once she conceives she keeps herself apart, like her people when they first came to Jerusalem, staying apart, growing quietly to maturity, deepening the roots of their faith. This news of this miraculous event ends Elizabeth’s humiliation of being barren; now she has only to wait and watch for the miracle to take root within her.

In another not-so-distant countryside from Zechariah and Elizabeth, another birth is announced by an angel. Before Israel held or heard of the child Jesus, a young Jewish girl, destined to be the first follower of her son, becomes a partner to the promise made long ago to her people. The ru’ah of Yahweh that hovered over the waters at creation will now overshadow the mother of Jesus, forming in her flesh the beloved son, who will later stand in the waters of the Jordan, blessed by that same spirit into his own life work.

©2014 Cathie Horrell.  All Rights Reserved.

Birth of the Word in the Soul Part III

Luke weaves the events surrounding Jesus’ birth with the unbreakable thread of the history of the Hebrew people. Their story shaped their identity and it will shape Jesus’ as well. It is the touchstone around which his life takes its meaning. Their story will mark this Jewish man just as it marked the Jewish nation before him. He will come to know it well, to wrest it from misunderstanding, to reclaim and restore the living reality of its meaning for his people.

As Luke’s gospel unfolds, the infant Jesus is seen laying in a cave-like stable, near the outskirts of a town teeming with people arriving for the census, his parents and simple shepherds his first followers. But the shepherds are not the first to herald Jesus’ arrival and rejoice at his advent. Luke’s good news is carried first on the lips of a few old people and one young Jewish girl. They are the faithful anawim, the remnant of Israel, scrupulously observing the rituals and customs of their faith. Their faith will make possible what the world deemed impossible. The faithful habit of their daily ritual the welcoming dawn inviting into the world the possibility of God.

They are Israel now. They carry the prayers and longings of their people in their lives of fidelity and service to Yahweh. From the first, they recognize in these unlikely births the nearness of God. His Spirit will inaugurate a new age, the new age Luke writes about as if in code, like hieroglyphics on a rock face, the words and events of his infancy narrative taken from Israel’s sacred writings, writings his audience would recognize like a star pointing its way to a manger. Throughout is the confluence of what has gone before with what is to come. Luke binds the strong yet subtle thread of the infancy narrative to the history of the Hebrew people, evocative of the spirit hovering over the waters of Genesis, tracing the trajectory of the infancy narrative with the full sweep of biblical touchstones.

©2014 Cathie Horrell. All Rights Reserved.

Birth of the Word in the Soul Part II

angel to Zechariah  John the Baptist stands at the confluence of the two testaments. The Hebrew Bible ends with the Book of Malachi. In Malachi, Yahweh is speaking. His are the first words of Genesis and his will be the last words in the final chapter of the recorded history of Israel. In Malachi we hear the Lord God’s last lament over his people, an impassioned reminder of what he has done for them, who he is for them and what he expects of them. He tells them he will send an Elijah-like prophet to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers. These enjoinders echo in the angel’s announcement of John’s birth to Zechariah at the opening of Luke’s gospel.  Through Gabriel, Yahweh voice reverberates in his Temple, across two testaments, charging John even before he is in the world with the task of preparing the path and the people for the next emissary of Israel’s fierce, possessive, loving God.

As the second testament begins, Yahweh sets himself squarely in the midst of Israel again, making himself the architect of these two unlikely births. The Spirit of Yahweh inhabiting Luke’s gospel will overtake John, from the outset setting him apart. John will not follow in his father’s footsteps as a Temple priest. The Temple priests were hand-picked by Yahweh to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem after David took the holy city for his people. Rather, John has been chosen to carry the covenant back into the imagination of Israel, to grow in the wilderness, raving like a mad man on the margins of society, a fiery prophet challenging, cajoling the Hebrew people. His words ring out much like Yahweh at the end of Malachi. Between the two testaments comes a yawning silence. But before his voice goes silent, Yahweh Sabbaoth entreats the tribes of Israel, who have strayed from the covenant, to repent and return to him so that he can return to them.

The prophets are gone. A remnant awaits. A child is born. A child who comes into the ordinariness of life, into the midst of a faithful remnant waiting for a messiah to deliver them from their Roman oppressors and reclaim the vision of the covenant, now imaged in the birth of a child. This child, Jesus.

From the moment of his conception, Jesus’ life is marked by many journeys. The first he makes inside his mother, when she goes to visit Elizabeth to share her good tidings. At the end of Mary’s half-day’s walk to Zechariah’s house, it is John in his mother’s womb who first acknowledges by his leap of joy the cousin for whom he will pave the path made of the expectant hopes of the Jewish people. The next journey Jesus makes is to Bethlehem, still safely ensconced within his mother, his father Joseph leading her mount across the rocky wilderness to a census taking and his birth. Throughout his life Jesus journeys toward each new horizon of being before him. But the journey that was his long before he came into the world, is the journey the Hebrew nation made as they crossed the wilderness, on their way to becoming the people of God.

© 2014 Cathie Horrell. All Rights Reserved.

Birth of the Word in the Soul Part 1

During this Christmas week I want to post an article I have previously written. It is a commentary on the Infancy Narrative in Luke’s Gospel. You will find in the following series of postings of this article many of the themes that appear in this blog, connected as they are to St. Paul’s invocation of the hidden-self, the Christ-self. I hope you enjoy it. Happy Holidays.

© 2014 Cathie Horrell. All Rights Reserved.

     night sky I will speak to you in poetry,

to unfold the mysteries of the past.

what we have heard and know,

what our ancestors have told us.

We shall not conceal

from their descendants, but

will tell to a generation still to come.

                                                                                                                                      Psalm 78: 2-4

And this will be a sign for you; You will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.                                                                                                                    Luke 2:12

At the heart of Luke’s infancy narrative, surrounded by songs of praise and joy, the hope of Israel is found lying in a manger. When the infant Jesus comes into the world he is set in the only place his mother has to lay him in their stable sanctuary, a wood-hewn trough. This trough, where animals have feed, becomes a manger, a sign for the shepherds who go in search of him. It is to this sign of the manger that we too, more shepherd than scholar, might look as we search for him as well.

Luke’s infancy narrative is a wonderful mix of people and emotions. There is belief and disbelief, surprise and bewilderment, questioning and assent, blindness and recognition, silence and song. Through the chorus and cacophony, two children come, one a prophet, wild and free, who will splash in the waters of the Jordan River, turning the hearts and sights of the people to the other. There the other will come, confident, striding across the rocky landscape of Judea, intent on his destination, carrying with him the hopes of his people, bound at birth to free them in his one great act of dedication, living his life.

With poetry, puzzlement and wonder, Luke crafts his narrative to give us the story of Jesus’ coming. It is a story that turns on prophecy and praise, promise and fulfillment. It is the story of Yahweh. Yahweh, the gypsy-god who journeyed with the Israelites, pitching his tent among them as he led them through the wilderness. It is the story of the transformation of a nation. It is the story of the transformation of their God. Their God is the Lord God of Israel as both author and protagonist, who reveals himself through his Spirit in the births of John the Baptizer and Yeshua of Nazareth to bring new life to Israel, calling the people back to him. In the events surrounding Jesus’ coming, the tent-dwelling Yahweh breaks through the laws of nature in order to take his future forward once more.

The Art of Advent

Pentecost red ribbons   St. Paul can rightly be called the first voice for the coming of Christ. We speak of the Christ child, but it was the person of Jesus who was born at Bethlehem. Jesus as the Christ came to be call or known at or after his resurrection. Jesus was proclaimed ‘messiah’ after his resurrection, when his disciples realized that this is who their leader was and finally got what he had been saying to them. [Or now believing who he was, infused their gospel accounts of his life with the words and sayings that would tell the world what they saw and now believed.]

It is no stretch of the imagination then to say that Paul is an artisan of Advent, an artisan for the coming of Christ. For to each community that he founded and preached to his was the message that brought the Christ-life to those people.

To speak of Mary, the mother of Jesus, as the co-creator with the Spirit of God, is to acknowledge her own art, the art of the spirit’s fidelity to the sacred that she would, before all else, make manifest to the world.

Mary’s let it be is the creative and life affirming response that marks all of sacred scripture, including the letters of St. Paul. From a woman who calls herself a handmaiden, by her let it be she becomes co-creator with the Lord of Life, open, responsive and receptive to the sacred spirit that overarches our finitude to bring about that which is no longer bound by time. At the moment of Jesus’ conception eternity entered the world and became available to all. For Paul to  live  in Christ is now our ever available opening to infinity and beyond. Today and every day, with the fidelity of each new sunrise, is the echoing fidelity of the Lord of Life who brought life out of a manger, beyond a cross, and into the gardens of our lives.

Be it child or image, painting or poem or the life lived authentically in response to the sacred spirit hovering over the waters of this world, we, like Mary, give faithful worship to that same spirit in each new day, in each new creation we bring forth, ever open and attendant to its advent. With each new day we have within us the enduring capability to fashion and give form to the Word become flesh.