Humans, over thousands of years, have thrived through the creation of myths and legends. We tell stories of powerful forces beyond our own control that delineate our place in the universe. We tell children of benevolent spirits, creation stories, and ancestral legends unique to our spiritual traditions.
We have created literature, music, art to sustain our stories because as human beings, we all need something to believe in.
In Western culture, Christmas time provides the pinnacle of myth and spiritual storytelling, from the nativity scene to Santa Claus. Christmas magic captivates the minds and hearts of all ages with story, rituals, tradition. This morning, for example, I woke to decorate the Christmas tree with my sisters, finish wrapping my family’s gifts, and listen to my favorite Michael Buble Christmas album. Tonight, I will gather with my extended family before we go to the annual Christmas eve candlelight service. What makes this season so deeply significant, enriched with spiritual belief?
When I was younger, I thought that the story of Jesus’ birth on Christmas was a legend, as unlikely to be true as a bearded man coming down my family chimney. It seemed irrational, unintelligent to think that two thousand years ago, a single birth could have been so significant. I felt that the nativity scene had been romanticized in our popular culture with songs and plays to compete with the secular Santa story. Clearly, Christians were as mistaken as children who still believed in reindeer and Santa’s sleigh.
Despite my skepticism toward the significance of Christ’s birth, I still found myself captivated by every Christmas eve service. Mentally, I would replace the pastor’s speak of “Jesus” with virtues such as “love”, “hope”, “peace”, and “joy”, the four words on banners above the altar. I felt moved by these greater ideals more than any Bible verse, and I believed in their universal power to heal us in our suffering. My only question, then, was how the church could claim that Jesus, a single human being, was the revelation of love, hope, peace, and joy in the world.
Fast forward four years to today, as I sit in my bedroom and reflect upon my prayers over the past year. Most of them speak to the vulnerability of being human and needing tender care and compassion. I have prayed for the Divine to come and heal my deepest insecurities, fears, uncertainties preventing me from being fully alive. Essentially, I have prayed for God to help me believe that I am loved unconditionally, that divine compassion radically pervades the truth of Being.
The answer to my prayer is revealed on Christmas, where I have found a story of compassion to believe in. While I still believe that elements of the Christmas story are legend, I give my full heart to the power of their message. The story of the Gospels, of Jesus’ life, is divine love made visible; God as a human being born in the most powerless and vulnerable state to express solidarity with the human condition.
As one who suffered and understood the human condition, Jesus provides the answer to our deepest longings for companionship. He is the only figure that I can fully give my faith to because he embodied the beauty of humanity. A human being who was both fully human and fully divine, who had the power to unite the Divine Other with the created world, is the ultimate expression of compassion. The Christmas story gives us a vulnerable, embodied human form of God to fall in love with. As theologian Richard Rohr writes,
“If God is ever to be loved and shared, God had to risk both human embodiment and human vulnerability. This is the only thing that enchants and evokes the human heart. We do not properly fall in love with concepts or theological ideas (although some do try)—persons fall in love with other persons.”
This Christmas, I pray to fall more deeply in love so that I not only believe in the Christmas story, but I embody its virtues of love, peace, joy, and hope. May all who celebrate Christmas find deeper meaning in its significance this year so that all may experience God’s love made visible.
A poem for these thoughts:
There is a richness to the soil we call life
that can harbor fruit or vines, weeds and wild flowers,
and trees the height of our greatest imagination.
Our beliefs germinate to grow our reality.
Yet no seed germinates in the thinness of air or lofty ideals;
it sprouts in the thickness of suffering, nutrients decaying,
darkness and light pervading each inch of earth.
My soil is formed to cultivate compassion,
the flowering plant with rooted tenderness.
How, then, do I nurture this seed in a world
uprooted from its sacred ground?
I need the wisdom of the great Gardener who graces me with life.
The hands of God alone can nurture the seeds
too painful, too testing to sprout alone.
To give guidance to each soul,
God grew himself in the womb of a chosen servant.
He came to Earth crying on the barren ground.
He lived as a dust creature,
a human in solidarity with the poor, the sinful,
the lowly in need of sown seeds.
I am the vine, he spoke,
and in his suffering, my seed ripens.
His voice calls to me from the deep,
gives me hands to hold when I dig into oblivion.
His crying as as an infant is a miracle to rejoice in.
His open arms as a healer is a bond to take refuge in.
Christ is the love that will never let go,
the rooted relationship that reveals all Mystery,
the legendary life that makes paradox a true story.
His is the lesson of grace over karma,
that we are fully embraced in our human state.
His birth is a witness to the assured truth:
we are born as the body of God.
may we live as believers
born to embody the sacred garden.