Storm and the Kingdom
We sometimes have to take the Kingdom
by storm, He does not. The Kingdom is already is, and it is only divine
courtesy that he does not, like a star ship captain, make it so,whatever
our thoughts or blindness or preferences in the matter.
The Kingdom comes in us only by our permission.
A good example of this combination of the Kingdom being taken by violence,
while being offered as a gentleness is His coming into Birth came by Our
Lady's assent. That gentle obedience entailed difficulties, reproaches
from those she loved, suspicions and the real possibility of being stoned
for adultery. Of course she trusted Him to look after her, in the deepest
sense, but there was no softening of the pain of Joseph's disappointment
in her, or of her parent's heartache. The very miracle of Joseph's
compassionate understanding which prevented the worst, her death at the
hands of the law, also meant that in a way, she was never going to have
what most people consider to be a normal life and normal relationships
This happens when we too, begin
to bear Jesus within us, and begin indeed, to transform from the inside
out. The peace has to be not as the world gives for the world does
not appreciate the flouting of its wisdom and common sense in the slightest.
A Cloud of Witnesses
The star which opens this sanctuary
is thought to mark the place where Jesus was born. For all the tragedy
and unhappiness that human beings have made of that moment in time, the
place and the moment are precious.
In many churches such a lamp is
a sign that God is present in a particular way, in a particular place,
it is an invitation to bend knee and heart, and to be aware. In this place
every denomination has wanted its own lamp. It could be a scandal,
in a way, that we are not content to have one stand for all. Yet, when
I look at this picture it almost seems to me that the lamps signify the
presence of a cloud of witnesses a crowd of presences. Perhaps of
S. John's Spirits of the churches?
The Heart of the Story
At the centre of all this however, is
simply the story and memory of a birth. All the rest is distraction. Jesus
was born of a human woman, and became human.
The implication of this story, it seems
to me, is that the flesh
is a fitting vehicle of the Spirit. That
it is a fitting expression of the beauty and glory that we call
God. It seems that the frailty of wealth and of human securities,
is not so precious as the warm breath and dung of the animals who shared
this barn with a woman giving birth. That this woman giving birth is doing
a sacred thing.
Doing a Sacred Thing
It always was, and always will be sacred,
however much we turn our heads away. For human beings, the denial of the
flesh is the unbalancing of the spirit. The child born onto hay, on a place
now marked with a silver star, was to grow up and say 'Blessed are
the humble'. Sometimes I think this is what He meant. We are so concerned
with being Spiritual, so concerned with our own rectitude. Yet, we are
flesh. We are born of woman. Blood and water are involved in that birth.
We are born as the lamb and the cow are born. We are born to wonder and
stillness as He is born.
If we try to separate ourselves from
our own animal being we begin to make ourselves sick. If we begin there,
we begin to understand some wonderful things about what it is to be holy
people, people who are like children, receptive, expectant - instead of
being people who are so lost in our own heads and fantasies that we do
not even know we are being selfish or demanding, or denying the Kingdom
entry into our selves.
Warm straw, and cattle dung, and his
mother's womb and breasts were not beneath Him. They are often 'beneath'
us, yet we depend on them. They were the most precious and basic shrine
earth could give the only cradle good enough to shelter the Lord of Hosts.
A Quiet Life, and a Life of Quiet
It may be that He came without struggle
or drama into this life. I like to think so. That his mother gave birth
with acceptance and trust, and held Him, knowing as every mother does,
that this son of hers was precious, holy, special. That He came as one
loved and wanted.
And that like any other mother, she held
this moment and Him in her heart, and would have, had nothing else happened.
Had no star shone, no wise men come, no shepherds, no soldiers to slaughter
his age mates, nothing but a quiet carpenter's shop and the peaceful wisdom
of a life well lived in the company of friends.
Of course, it was not to be. It scarcely
ever is. His own, we are told, did not accept him. Sometimes, I look about
at church and chapel, and I wonder if His own accepts Him yet. Far less
the message of his being born physically and bodily. Yet we expect him
to be born, spiritually in us. How is this to happen, if we do not, cannot,
accept our carnal nature as being sacred and acceptable?