Beloved St. John’s community,
As I write this, it is almost precisely the moment of the Winter Solstice – Tuesday morning, December 21. This is the darkest day of the year; the sun rises long after my daughter Carly gets on the bus for school, and sets before the evening meal. This is truly the beginning of winter.
And in many traditions, something important happens in this space of deep darkness. It’s not just a hallmark-card-worthy and abstract “light in the dark.” In our tradition, it’s the appearance of a beautiful human baby in the mess and danger of labor and delivery in a barn. And this baby is utterly sacred, utterly divine.
As John preached on Sunday, we call this the “Incarnation.” It’s God, spoken not with a lot of verbiage but expressed in a physical and vulnerable human being. Celtic Christianity affirms that all matter is sacred; the place you find God is not in your head or in the realm of spirit or ideas alone, but in this actual world of flesh and blood, stone and trees, water and fire and wind. To get more specific, God is meant to be found precisely where you physically are right now.
Not in the past. Not in the future. Not somewhere else. Here, now. And in the now that continues like a wave, forever and ever, always in this moment.
What if you don’t need to seek God, but God is already present to you – in the sacred light of all that surrounds you all the time? What if the message of God isn’t always literal words, but all that is good and true and beautiful in the natural world, including yourself and your body, your life as it is?
John Philip Newell, Celtic theologian, tells the story of describing the mystery of the Incarnation to a group in Ottawa:
I began the presentation by using a phrase from the prologue to St. John’s Gospel, “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world” (1:9). I spoke of the way the Celtic tradition invites us to look for this light in one another and in everything that has being. Attending the talk was a young Mohawk elder … [who] stood with tears in his eyes as he spoke… “I have been wondering where I would be tonight, where my people would be tonight… where we would be as a Western world tonight, if the mission that had come to us from Europe centuries ago had come expecting to find light in us.”1
We cannot undo this past, but we can encounter the Jesus of Christmas, see his story with brand new eyes, and begin to seek God’s light in ourselves, and in everyone and everything we encounter.
That is hard work. Many times we can’t see light in one another. Many times we speak and act in anger or selfishness, violence or indifference. Just this morning I reacted with scolding instead of compassion and curiosity when someone did something I thought put others in COVID-related-jeopardy (it turns out I misunderstood and hadn’t been listening carefully enough). I was not connected to my heart space in that moment, but in the space of worry and fear. We’ve all been in similar places. If we slow down long enough, we can avoid getting tangled up in our immediate emotional reactions, and instead pause and intentionally look for the sacred that we already know is there. If we were all to try this, with humility and even humor, how might our lives change? How might our life at St. John’s and in the world change?
This Christmas, let us be reminded by this beautiful baby, Jesus the Son of God, that all life is sacred. Wherever you physically are, you are meant to manifest what is good and true, loving and compassionate, in the actual world around you, by the power and presence of God’s Spirit. All the while, in every moment, God’s love is also surrounding and holding you. May it be so.
In Christ’s love,
1 John Philip Newell, Sacred Earth, Sacred Soul, p. 12.