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.

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Under the Heart of a Woman

 stary night  St. Paul’s message is rooted in his proclamation of the Christ. After Jesus’ resurrection Paul is the first to announce that Christ will come again. In Col. 3:16 Paul says let the message of Christ find its home in you. Paul’s is the message of another Advent, the promised of the coming of Christ. For Paul it is not only a future event, but his insistence that we can have Christ, Christ’s life and love for each of us, which we especially need to hear and get closer to today.  It is a powerful Advent message. To live our lives in the Spirit of Christ as he says repeatedly in different ways in his letter to the Romans. Paul believes fiercely in the Life of the Spirit working in our lives.

That Jesus as the Christ can be born in the world and in us is evident as we celebrate the season of Advent. Even before Paul became an apostle for Christ, before the Christ child was born, it was under the heart of a woman that Christ found a home. Jesus’ first advent was to his mother, Mary.  When the mother of Jesus journeys to Elizabeth’s home to announce her good new, she became the first Christ-bearer, Jesus’ first disciple. The Spirit that made possible Jesus’ conception in a woman, is that same Spirit of Christ that Paul champions as a coming possibility in our lives as well. But it was Mary and Elizabeth that became the first heralds of the coming birth in the world, Christ’s first coming in the world to two woman.  Luke’s gospel, like Paul’s writing, is also filled with the image of the Spirit. (Apparently Luke and Paul were at one time traveling companions.)

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. They were waiting for him, as we do today. Their longing became the threshold of his coming. Mary’s fidelity to her faith and worship brought about the improbable advent of new life to Israel. And today to 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. As we make our journey in faith, we join with Mary and Elizabeth, as Jesus’ first disciples, to awaken and give birth to the Christ-self in our lives as well. A life that is meant to be heralded, shared and rejoiced with others.  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 Word become flesh.

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. 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, began under the heart of a woman.