Sister Doreen’s Reflections
While we are trying hard to believe that perhaps we are learning to live with all the variants of COVID in a new kind of freedom, I think that what Bishop Christopher Harper wrote a couple of years ago In the December Saskatchewan Diocesan Church newspaper is still relevant today. He wrote
“COVID-19 gave our world a timeout, where we were sent to our rooms to think about what we are doing to the world and to each other. Together we hold Advent and Christmas in our heart and lives. It is about opening ourselves to what wondrous miracles God is enacting amongst us; for, God is with us.”
The past couple of years has brought with it, I believe for all of us, startling discoveries, sometimes painful and hard to comprehend and sometimes happy surprises, as well as new insights into the wondrous miracles that God is enacting amongst us, for God is with us.
Today, when we take away or go beyond the tinsel, the presents, the Christmas trees and sparkling lights, the creche scene, the music, the shopping and spending, the turkeys and the food – and hopefully this year family gatherings – what are we left with? Is it not just the overwhelming and simple acknowledgement of the miracle and mystery of God’s love for us – a Messiah in a manger? It is always a time when I find myself marvelling at this gospel story. What could be more incongruous, less solemn? What could be more wonder-filled than this absolute turning of the world on its head? A tiny, vulnerable infant brings hope, healing, and life to a hopeless, broken and dying world.
I found myself thinking about a Messiah in a manger as we have a creche in the lobby here at the Convent – and also the Messiah on the Cross that we have here in the chapel: the manger and the cross: the fullness of the wondrous miracle of God’s love for us and for the world. In the hymn “I Found Him Cradled in a lamp-lit barn, his mother Mary rocked him. The child was God they hung on a big high cross and the mocked him there … (Common Praise #625). Christmas can be likened to the down payment of God’s love and Good Friday and Easter the fulfilment of God’s love: the two are held together – and the wondrous miracle of God’s love makes sense only when the two are held together. This is especially true when today we celebrate the deep love of God as a Messiah in a manger.
In the gospel story for today there are two things that caused me to do what Bishop Christopher referred to: COVID sending me to my room to think about what we were doing to the world and to each other.
The first were the words “because there was no room in the Inn” such a quiet and heart stopping gospel statement. It brought to mind how many homeless people there are – of the need for affordable housing – of the gap between those of us who have so much and those of us who have so little. For me, It was heart stopping and heart distressing – and in the midst of it I heard whispering in my ear … in this too, God is with us …
God comes past the cozy houses, past the busy well-stocked stores, past the hotels and lodges full of holiday revelers, to a cave at the end of a dark street. There, forgotten and unannounced, in the dark and cold, alone and frightened and helpless, there you’ll find this birth, this child, this refuge family, this holy family. I find it strangely comforting, this manner of God’s coming, off in a dark, cold corner of our own world, or of my own self. Into the mess, the violence, the rape, the drug addiction, the suffering, the injustice, the hatred and abuse, the loneliness and countless other indignities, comes the Light of the World. Into this God chooses to make God’s home with us, to show the depths of God’s love for us. And in this mess God asks us to make room for the Messiah in a manger. Where is love trying to be born around you now? And how can you offer it a bit of shelter, even as rude as a stable, that the holy light of God’s love can be kindled? I have thought how much I am like the innkeeper of the Christmas story. I believe we are all the innkeeper to whom the Christ comes. The inn of our personal life is almost always desperately overcrowded. Our plans, hopes, fears are beyond number, and too often we justify the closing of the gates of our soul. But if we are prepared to play the innkeeper’s part as that long-ago man may well have played it, we may realize that there is always a place of hospitality for the Christ who searches for his birthing in us. The cave therefore is always the forgotten place in us, the rejected place, the unseen place, that part of us dismissed as second class. But the cave is where the Christ is born. God is still with us. God is still being born in the mess of a world that seems to have run amuck. One thing I know for sure: Divine Love doesn’t give up, ever. God will always find a place to be born: as Meister Eckhart said: “what good is it to me if this eternal birth takes place unceasingly but does not take place within myself – if I do not give birth to God in my time and my culture?” I imagine that God waits in anticipated excitement in places and circumstances to be found – to be given birth. God never gives up, and God will always find a place to be born.
The second thought that has been with me are the words from the Gospel: And the shepherds said “Let’s go straight to Bethlehem and see this event that God has made known to us. They saw and believed, and told everyone they met ..”: it is a heart intriguing and exciting gospel statement.
And with the shepherds we come to see, I come to see … and see what? The birth of a Baby? But such a birth! We hear and we sing that all authority rests on this child’s shoulders – a Wonderful Counsellor, a Mighty God, an Everlasting Father, a Prince of Peace. This Messiah in a manager is the Earth-maker, the Pain-bearer, the Life-giver, the Peace-bringer, the Law-giver, the Heart-healer – the binding glue that holds the universe together! This is the King as a servant. The Shepherd as a lamb. The Potter as clay. This is the lonely, the unloved, the homeless, the forgotten, the marginalized, a refuge family, the hungry … a Messiah in the manger. This I is what I see, what we see. Making nativities is one of the deepest longing of our spiritual life, to have God at home in ourselves. And Barbara Brown Taylor in ‘Gospel Medicine’ said that we now have a choice, what are we called to do with what we see? She gives us a challenge in what she wrote: “You can take part in a thrilling and dangerous scheme with no script and no guarantees. You can agree to smuggle God into the world inside your own body.” We are all called to be mothers of God, to bring God to birth in our own lives, communities, and world. If I agree to smuggle God into the world, what will it look like?”
“Sacred infant, all divine, what a mighty love was yours, thus to come from highest bliss down to such a world as this! How shall we love you, holy hidden Being, if we love not the world which you have made?” God makes the journey to Bethlehem again and again, “Because you are precious in my sight, and honoured, and I love you with an everlasting love.”
One thing I know for sure: Divine Love doesn’t give up, ever. God hides in all sorts and many different places, all excited about being found. And you and I have the choice – we can take part in a thrilling and dangerous scheme with no script and no guarantees. We can agree to smuggle God into the world inside our own body. I love that image, those words. They make me think –who am I as innkeeper and as ‘Theotokos’? Where will I try to smuggle Jesus tomorrow? And what will it look like?