The light shone in the darkness.
Truth comes in layers and each layer
has its own language.
Physical truth is grasped by the senses
and expressed in weights, measures,
chemical compositions, and such.
Philosophical truth is grasped by the mind
and expressed in factual, logical theorems.
Spiritual truth is intuited by the soul
and expressed in signs and symbols,
myths and dreams, poems and rituals.
The Incarnation is spiritual truth
and Christmas is our poetic gateway into it.
Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein said
that if we are to discover and express deep truth,
language must go on holiday.
Hence, Episcopal monk, Martin Smith said,
Christmas is the time (we) . . . send language
on a holiday.
We . . . float in and out of legends and myths
and ancient lore, while our carols have us virtually
speaking in tongues as we warble,
“lullee lulay, Noel, Gloria in Excelsis Deo!
It is to the poets we turn (at Christmas),
Brother Martin said.
The Prologue to John is one of the first poems
about the Incarnation.
But it did not stop there.
Amadeus of Lausanne was a medieval French poet-monk,
In his Christmas sermon 800 years ago, Amadeus said:
When Mary gave birth, the heavens were glad
and earth rejoiced and hell was shaken . . .
The heavens gave him a bright and beaming star,
and a glorious host of angels singing . . . .
The exultant earth offered him shepherds
. . . and magi worshiping . . . .
(I)magine the smile on the face of all creation . . .
Imagine the bright sky in its beauty,
all clouds swept aside and the stars saying,
“Here we are,” and shining merrily.
Imagine the night flooding the darkness with light
and supplying brilliance in the place of murk.
Imagine the night flooding the darkness with light.
For millennia, poets like John, Amadeus,
Christina Rosetti, and W. H. Auden have pointed us
toward this miracle and mystery of Incarnation.
The Incarnation means that
when God joins the human family,
it changes human life to the core.
John uses light into darkness as an image of that change.
In Mary Poppins, P. L. Travers uses depth into flatness
to say the same thing.
You may recall, Burt the chimney sweep draws
chalk landscapes on the sidewalk.
They are great pictures, but that’s all they are
They are great pictures, but that’s all they are
-- 2 dimensional chalk drawings on concrete
-- until Mary, Burt, and the children leap into one them.
Then the chalk landscape becomes a vibrant, living place,
bursting with songs, adventures, and wonders.
That’s the Incarnation.
The Greek word for God, Theos, comes from a root
that means to leap.
Ours is a leaping God who transforms the world
by leaping into it,
like Mary Poppins jumping into the chalk drawings.
When God jumps into the 2-dimensional chalk drawings
we call our lives, they suddenly and miraculously
God leapt into human history that first Christmas.
With just a slight nod of our consent,
God dives into us today to change our way
of being in the world.
When God leaps into our lives,
there is a smile on the face of all creation
. . . . and all the stars call out “We are here.”
We are prone to 2-dimensional living.
We go flat like a can of soda opened
and left out overnight.
We flatten our lives with habitual patterns of thought,
interpretation, and action.
Maybe we compulsively look for evidence
we aren’t wanted.
Maye we obsessively fret about tomorrow,
so afraid of what might happen
we can’t really see what’s happening now.
Maybe we spend years hammering the same square peg
into one round hole after another
so we can feel an old familiar frustration
and know we are ourselves.
Maybe we cling to an old grudge or grievance, humming an old somebody done somebody wrong song
Maybe we become Pharisees enforcing
the iron law of bureaucracy.
There are as many different life-flattening patterns
as there are people.
So what’s yours?
The first step toward freedom is seeing the cage.
God shows us something fresh and new
every time we open our eyes,
but we keep seeing the same thing
because we are looking backwards
and calling it the future.
Sometimes evil is horrific and cruel,
but usually it is just dull, dark, deadening.
We recognize the banality of evil,
as Hannah Arendt called it,
by its monotony, its soul shriveling mediocrity,
its failure to speak poetry.
But St. Irenaeus said, The glory of God
is a human being fully alive.
Given the slightest crack in our resistance,
and God leaps into our hum drum routines
and turns them into lives,
shines light into our darkness,
raises mountains out of our chalk drawings,
infuses the fullness of life into our souls.
Sometimes God changes our circumstances,
but more often God changes our attitudes,
God opens our eyes so we can see something new.
Then we might possibly do something new.
It is possible. I have even seen churches do it.
We celebrate Christmas through ritual and song
to remind us that our flat deadening habits
are not all there is.
There is life outside the box.
Joy and creativity and surprises
are all there outside the box.
There is available to us a life
in which light shines, mountains rise,
the whole creation smiles,
and we look around bedazzled saying,
Glory be. Glory be.