We live inside a box formed by time & space. Standing at the edge of that reality, peering beyond, we see, as the Apostle wrote, through a glass darkly and our mind fills with haze and vapor. We just can’t go there as nothing inside compares with the outside (so far as we know). Carl Jung posits the need for a point of reference outside the conditions of present reality.
Carl Jung, “It is possible to have an attitude to the external conditions of life when there is a point of reference outside them.”
Andreas Wagner, “All we know and experience is mediated through matter. If we step on a sharp object, the material known to us as a foot, begins to phone home: pain, pain, puncture, puncture, what is it? Pull it out right now. The change in message from my foot requires a change in the matter of my foot. Wagner concludes by saying, “Matter impacts meaning.”
Andreas Wagner, “we overlook that there is no conversation without matter, and similarly, that any change in the meaning of a signal requires a change in matter. Matter impacts meaning.”
We need two things to make sense of anything and everything.
1. What we must have then, is a point of reference beyond the time & space container in which we live.
2. And that reference point will be experienced through matter which is the only way we know how to know anything.
Before the foundation of the world, The Holy Trinity promulgated the incarnation. The Second Person of the Trinity, coming from eternity into time and space fully material to promulgate salvation. Matter impacts meaning and Divine matter imparts ultimate meaning.
Nativity story begins with an enrollment. The early enrollment that precedes the birth of Christ alludes to the “enrollment in heaven” that is his birth’s consequence. As he said to his disciples, “Rejoice not, that the spirits are subject to you but rather rejoice, because you names are written in heaven.”
The Christ-child is born and laid in a manager because there was no room for them in the inn. Like the birth of this child the origin of this son of God is outside the inn of the world and laid in a MANGER.
Interesting word, MANGER The Greek Old Testament uses the same word Kibotos (kib-o-tos)
The manger in the Bethlehem stable.
The manger signifies emptiness that is to be filled. The container available and waiting to be filled with the precious gift of God, the gift of the Son.
In this box, we live in time and space. To this ark, this Manger of time and space, is born a material reference point: Jesus the Christ.
Now, let me string together reflections by the Church Father on this great night.
In this manger Mary puts Jesus wrapped in swaddling bands (KJV). As Gregory of Nazianzus puts it, He was wrapped in swaddling bands, but at the resurrection he released the swaddling bands of grace. He was laid in a manger but was praised by angels, disclosed by a star and adored by magi.”
Inmost crèches and art of the nativity you find animals around the manger, always an ox and always an ass, why because of the words of the Prophet Isaiah, “The ox knoweth his owner and the ass his master’s crib.”
On a humorous aside. Last night (Christmas Eve) at the family service performed the traditional Christmas Pageant. Children were dressed as all the usual suspects. I did have to intervene when one little girl announced she wanted to be a pig at the manager scene. “No pigs,” I pronounced! Even though Memphians revere all things porcine, especially in its myriad of eatable forms, there was still no pig at the manager.
After the Church Fathers, the Venerable Bede, whose tomb lies at one end of Durham Cathedral, wrote in the 7th century, “He who sits at the right hand of the Father goes without shelter from the inn, that he may for us prepare many mansions in the house of his heavenly Father. Hence we have ‘because there was no room for him in the inn.’ He was born not in the house of his parents but at the inn, by the wayside, because through the mystery of the incarnation be is become the Way by which he guides us to our home, where we shall also enjoy the Truth and the Life.”
Luke ends the nativity gospel in fields near Bethlehem where the angel of the Lord proclaims, this day is born to you a savior who is Christ, The Lord, Savior = God’s activity come to earth, Christ/Messiah/the anointed one, the Lord, the prince of peace.
So there you have it. The story that begins this night with this Mass in the mid-night, ends on Easter Eve after the fall of darkness, but in that darkness has come a great light.
A latter day Church Father, C.S. Lewis, once wrote, “What a terrible place the world would be if it were always winter and never Christmas.” Unfortunately there is not much winter (70 degrees but thank God for 30 ton air-conditioners) but it is Christmass!
We are not alone, the Christ Child, the only Son of God, has come to be born in us. To Him be honor and glory now and forever. Amen.
©John W. Sewell
The Feast of the Incarnation
December 25, 2015
NOTE: I found that I had neglected to click the Publish button. So it is late, but it is now here. JWS
The Eve of the Feast of the Incarnation
The Kingdom of God comes, as our Lord put it, “without observation.”
Even so, it was a particularly inauspicious beginning. Gabriel had come to a young woman in Nazareth named Mary. He told her that God had chosen her to be the mother of God’s only son and that the Holy Spirit would accomplish it. She agreed, and it was so.
Joseph, Mary’s fiance, at first thought to divorce Mary quietly. But then Gabriel let him in on the plan and so he took Mary for his wife. I’m sure there was unpleasant gossip about the pregnant bride and her husband who some in town thought a fool for marrying her at all.
It was not an auspicious beginning.
In response to the census decreed by the Emperor Augustus, Joseph traveled to the hometown of his ancestor David. Apparently Joseph didn’t want to leave Mary alone so late in her pregnancy she rode a donkey 75+ miles to Bethlehem. There was no room in the inn so they wound up in a stable. Tradition says it was a cave.
It was not an auspicious place for a birth.
And there her first born son was born – laid in a manger – with the animals all around.
It was not an auspicious nursery.
An Angel appeared to shepherds who had the night shift watching the sheep. The angel said, “To you this day in the city of David is born one Christ the Lord.” Then suddenly more angels appeared. Was it 2, 20 or 200 angels? It’s hard to know when you have so little practice seeing angels. “Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth.”
It was not an auspicious audience.
The shepherds went into Bethlehem and indeed it was so: Emmanuel – God with us.
It was not auspicious in any way we would usually recognize! But the truly important things in our own lives have always come without auspicious beginnings. We never saw their importance at the time. It is only in getting still and looking at our life that we see the outline of meaning. Oh, we say, that’s what that meant.
- How amazed would Augustus be to know that more people know him from the opening line of the Christmas Gospel than from any inscription on a building in the forum in Rome?
- Quirinus is the only Roman Governor of Syria now remembered and that for an event which he never knew of.
- Those taking the census, those who could afford rooms in the inn that night never knew that an event born out poverty would be the very event by which we divide history before and after.
“Here in time we have a holiday because the eternal birth which God the Father bore and bears unceasingly in eternity is now born in time, in human nature, The birth is always happening. But if it happen not in me what does it profit me? What matters is that it (the birth) shall happen in me.” Meister Eckhart
The inauspicious surroundings of our lives are the very occasion new birth in us!
It is the dark recesses of the stables of our souls that new birth begins.
It comes quietly hardly noticed by the turning of new leaves and amid the litter of good intentions. It is when we are powerless and come to know it that the birth pain begins. We give up and know that we cannot make it on our own – there is a sudden irresistible movement of grace and there it is – new life – laid in the manager in amongst the ruin of our well laid plans.
This is not what we expect. This is not what we desire. We want drama. We want the earth to tilt further on its axis in order that we will know that we are alive and that all is well. But that is not how it happens.
Meister Eckhart: “God is not found in the soul by adding anything, but by a process of subtraction.”
Tonight heaven and earth meet in that inauspicious event born of poverty. Earth is drawn up into heaven. In the great silence — without observation – He is come!
CS Lewis once said, “What a sorry place the world would be if it were always winter and never Christmas.” Well, it is finally winter even in Tennessee. And it is Christmas — let us be still and silent before him that he may be reborn in us.