Statue of the Virgin & Child at Saint John’s
Statue of the Virgin & Child at Saint John’s
Just what are we doing here in the mid-night? I find myself in a new place this Christmas, different from any other in my 61 years. This state is new for my 31 years in this collar. I feel a peaceful agitation a tender urgency to proclaim the awe-ful mystery that orders time from before & after the events of this night! In the name of the one most holy child conceived in the Virgins womb hear & perceive the wondrous gift given us.
They studied the story just as we do. Let us follow their lead in plumbing the depths of sacred story
There are Four Senses of Scripture –
I. The literal story that charms the world this one night. What a nice story, if only it were true. In the Church tonight we will tell the story & the pews fill, some to overflowing as if by some primordial instinctual urge to return to remember, almost remember why? And, yet will leave from our several churches this night, vaguely unsatisfied.
If we remain with only this sense of the Scripture we loiter near but not near enough.
II. Deeper than the text itself, lies the symbolic layer of meaning. This room is literally screaming with symbol. This place makes no sense without the key to the lock of meaning in this place.
The Lady Chapel to my left is place to start. There the Virgin sits dressed in red dress & blue cloak, red is the color of earth & blue of heaven. The angel promised her that the Holy Spirit would over-shadow her womb –
The same word described the brooding contemplation by the Spirit of God over the waters of chaos in the beginning. From her womb came the child, the holy child, who is the word made flesh.
There in the mural he sits in his mother’s lap, fully human yet not infant shaped, no he is proportioned as an fully grown man. Mary displays him to the world and he looking directly at us beckons restraint with his left while raising his right hand in blessing.
The identical posture he takes in the great tower wall – Jesus enthroned in glory. This sense of Scripture is artful & instructive & yet not enough.
III. The Moral Sense of Scripture is deeper yet and demands a response. What are we to do? The shepherds are privy to the oratorio of the angels, and yet do they not go and see this thing that has come to pass? They do go and there in that womb, that cave, find the babe lying in a manager. And yet there is another depth that the Holy Spirit reveal if we are willing.
IV. Here the duo of heart & mind unite in a great paradoxical one, holding contradicting opposites in a holy tension. What happens this night is only historic rumor and magical tale unless it reaches its holy conclusion.
Meister Eckhart, the medieval mystic, of the 13th Century, wrote, “We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly, but does not take place within myself? And, what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture? This, then, is the fullness of time: When the Son of Man is begotten in us.
Saint Basil, the Great, in the fourth Century, speaks from the mystic depths when he said, “There are many annunciations, few Incarnations. “
Oh Lord, let one of those rare, elusive incarnations, be born here this night, in us. Amen.
Mary & Jesus with Elizabeth & John
December 23, 2012
Tradition says that Mary was at the well drawing water when Gabriel first approached her with the prospectus. Artists often show her tilting her head as if listening carefully – for the good news comes through hearing as we know – and it came to pass that she … was pregnant … and then the neighbors & the busybodies noticed she was showing. Knowing full well she was not living with Joseph that it couldn’t be his child – and of course it was not his child – it’s was the Son of God.
In the second century a Greek philosopher named Celsus repeated a vicious rumor that as he put it, “when she was pregnant she was turned out of doors by the carpenter to whom she had been betrothed, as having been guilty of adultery, and bore a child to a certain [Roman] soldier named Panthera.” It doesn’t get uglier than that …
That being the case it is small wonder that Mary made haste to the hills of Judea to the home of her Aunt Elizabeth & Uncle Zechariah who up in years were the archetypal childless couple who doted on the nieces & nephews.
But suddenly, to the amazement of everyone, Elizabeth is pregnant and she is now in her sixth month.
Ephrem the Syrian –“ Our Lord prepared his herald in a dead womb, to show that he came after a dead Adam. He vivified Elizabeth’s womb first, and then vivified the soul of Adam through his body”
The babe leapt in her womb – the crippled man in the temple went walking & leaping & praising God.
The word Hallelujah is rooted in a Hebrew letter that represents a leaping man.
Christians from the beginning examined scriptures from more than one perspective. There are two of them with one those two having three parts.
The literal story itself
§ Mary is the soul that opens to the creative Holy Spirit
§ Her womb filled with water – like the waters of creation in Genesis, the Holy Spirit broods, some say, like a nesting hen.
§ Every time we create a concept – we hearken back to the listening Virgin
The moral (what might this call ME to DO?)
§ Saint Basil the Great once said that “there are many annunciations but few incarnations.”
The mystical (when the soul is stirred, and the head operates with the heart)
The symbolic & moral layers deepen yet again to a place we cannot will into being.
Come, abide within me;
let my soul, like Mary,
be thine earthly sanctuary.
Come, indwelling Spirit,
with transfiguring splendor;
love and honor will I render.
Where I go here below,
let me bow before thee,
know thee, and adore thee.
Suddenly, to quote Ellis Peters, there is an sudden irresistible movement of grace, and our horizons expand – past our petty peeves & sniveling sins – beyond what we think is important – every problem & compulsion loses its urgency and we have clarity, peaceful clarity.
It is real. What happened to Mary in history must happen in me spiritually! I must be pregnant with Jesus.
When a pregnant woman enters a room everyone in the room recognizes the life that is within her; in former days in recognition of that life, a man rose promptly to offer her his seat if one was not available for her.
Maybe this is the year, the time, high time, God’s time that there be not only a annunciation but this year an incarnation.