“How can this be?… Let it be done unto me.” – Mary, in Luke 1:34,38
As the dark of advent gives way to the light of Christmas, as we remember our ancestral celebrations of solstice, honoring the incremental stretch of longer days and the almost perfect balance of light and dark, I am struck by the paradox of this time of year.
In so many ways, Christmas is a paradox, a both/and, a Mystery that holds much. It is a paradox at the heart of what it means to be human.
Mary in one breath says “how can this be?” AND “let it be.” Her ability to hold this tremendous both/and ushers in a shift in consciousness—the Christ—that continues to challenge us and call us to more. She births the first Incarnation, and models how each of us might continue to birth the consciousness, and life, of Christ into the world.
At the time of Jesus’ birth, the Hebrew people are waiting for the king of the world, a savior, one to lead them into military, social and religious victory. He comes as a tiny, vulnerable, poor thing screeching alongside animals because his young, traveling parents couldn’t find any other place to stay.
His birth is news of great rejoicing for some, a long-awaited cause for celebration. For others, it leads to fear and plans of violence.
Poor field workers and foreign dignitaries alike come to pay their respects to this tiny child.
The prophets of his arrival are not the expected—Elizabeth, an older pregnant woman, with her “Hail Mary” and the child leaping within her womb. Zechariah, old and dumb until he finds his voice and his faith. Joseph’s dreams and random angels and visionaries from far away.
Mary, after who knows how long a labor, musters everything she has in her teenage self and in a wash of blood and water pushes out this child that we now say is God AND Human. She was truly the first priest, the first to proclaim the words, “This is my Body…This is my Blood.” Perhaps there was a midwife presiding over this first Eucharist, perhaps it was the animals themselves, or Joseph. The birth song, the first song of praise, certainly, was a womanly roar of pain and the tears of life and relief.
“How can this be? … Let it be done unto me.”
I am amazed that central to this Christian story, central at this moment, this beginning of a faith that has held sway over politics, culture and everyday life in many parts of the world for over 2,000 years now, at its heart is Mystery and paradox. There is nothing certain or powerful (in the common understanding of power) or convenient about this moment. Incarnation, Jesus, this central theological and spiritual principle, happened like this—in blood and water and dirt, from the body of a woman, surrounded by unlikely characters who didn’t know, really, what was happening or what they were supposed to do about it. It was a lot of unknown and yet, a central certainty. It was a time of rejoicing, the release of great joy, and yet, too, the contractions of fear and poverty. The expectation was a worldly ruler, an earthly king and yet… alongside the animals and in the dirt of the earth, something else seemed to be happening, something unknown and somehow, quietly magnificent. Like when Mary said “yes” tentatively to the angel Gabriel, the future still loomed ahead as a giant blank slate.
Christmas in many ways has become something fairly disconnected from what happened all those years ago. Even reminders of “Jesus is the reason for the season” doesn’t really come close to what’s at the heart of this day, because so much of Christianity lives from a place pretty removed from the essence of the Incarnation, which IS what Christmas is all about.
From the time Jesus was born, we start praising him, and forgetting that he is the embodiment of what we are to become. Jesus paves the way, for all of us to follow. And the way of the Incarnation, of Christmas reality, is this: we are each of us, in our own unique and blessed way, called to birth the Christ—the spirit of love and life—into the world. We are to do this with courage and with faith, held in the Spirit of the Living God, as Jesus was. We are called to do this in the fullness of our humanity, THROUGH our humanity, in and of all the questions and quirks and mistakes of our life. We are called to this task IN our fleshiness, in these bodies, knowing we are sanctified, knowing God dwells HERE—on the earth, in these particular bodies and lives. This is the Mystery of the Incarnation. That God has a body, that it is good, and further, that WE are that body, now, on earth. God first took the form of Jesus, a tiny child born to Mary and Joseph, and through his life and death and ultimately, ongoing eternal life, we are ALL called to do the same. We are called to live as if our one small life is sanctified and holy, because it is. We are called to live the central truth of Christianity—that we are, in the entirety of us, made in the image and likeness of God. That the Divine is, indeed, coming to dwell in human form—on that day all those years ago, and today, and tomorrow—in me, and in you, and in all of humanity.
“How can this be?… Let it be done unto me!”
Like Mary, we might wonder how this can be so—how can my one, small, seemingly insignificant life mirror and reflect the vast life of God? We have so much going on inside of us, all the time—so much humanness. It can feel far away to imagine ourselves into the image and likeness of God. We feel confused, often, and afraid. We stumble along, encountering others and parts of ourselves that we don’t really like or know what to do with. We face situations in life that feel unlivable, insurmountable. Yet we keep living, we keep saying yes by our waking up in the morning and doing what needs to be done. In the unknown, somehow, we choose love or faith or hope or some mix of these. We venture out, into the dark, the unknown, unto the course of our life without really knowing anything. We do the best we can, in faith.
This is exactly what our cast of characters were doing all those years ago—Mary and Joseph, the animals, the shepherds, the kings who traveled far to visit the child. They were all stepping forward into the unknown, into great darkness, with faith, to praise this child, God-come-among-them, because it meant something that would change their own identity forever. They knew they would never be the same, no matter how uncertain the circumstances of their life. They knew that in the mess and the mistakes, somehow, Love was there.
So it is in our human life—Love is here. Let us remember that it is HERE, that the Incarnation is happening, the Christ is coming to be—in you, and in me. It’s not going to happen in an abstract way. It’s going to happen through the mess and context of our lives, the choices we make, and the way we show up, even when we think we have no idea what to do. Let us continue to bring Love to birth, to Incarnate Goodness with our lives.