Lectionary Reflections: The First Sunday of Christmas, December 30, 2012
I Samuel 2:18-20, 26; Psalm 148; Colossians 3:12-17; Luke 2:41-52
On the only Sunday in Christmas, my “adventurous lectionary” pays homage to one of my professors Bernard Loomer. If the incarnation means anything today, it points to God’s embodiment in the messiness of our world. God does not draw lines, exclude otherness, or demean embodiment. Christmas challenges us to love God “in the world of the flesh.” (T.S. Eliot, “For the Time Being”) in all of its contrast and variety. Christmas invites us, with Psalm 148, to give glory to God’s presence in stars, moon, angels, sea monsters, wild animals, and humankind in all its ethnic, religious, theological, and sexual variety. The incarnation challenges us to experience God’s glory in our own lives. (Please note my more “conventional” lectionary commentary at http://processandfaith.org/resources/lectionary-commentary.)
I participated in one of Loomer’s final classes, taught as Visiting Professor at Claremont Graduate School and Claremont School of Theology, in 1978. Each week, a number of us, including Ignacio Castuera, Rita Nakashima Brock, Rebecca Parker, and Catherine Keller – gathered for give and take with one of the parents of process theology. During this time, Loomer explored his vision of theological and spiritual “size” or “stature” with us. According to Loomer:
By S-I-Z-E I mean the capacity of a person’s soul, the range and depth of his love, his capacity for relationships. I mean the volume of life you can take into your being and still maintain your integrity and individuality, the intensity and variety of outlook you can entertain in the unity of your being without feeling defensive or insecure. I mean the strength of your spirit to encourage others to become freer in the development of their diversity and uniqueness. I mean the power to sustain more complex and enriching tensions. I mean the magnanimity of concern to provide conditions that enable others to increase in stature.
Persons of stature have grand souls, able to encompass the varieties of religious and cultural experience and expression.
The incarnation asks the questions: “How big is your world? Does it include angels and magi, infants and homeless parents, orthodox and heretic, stranger and companion? Could it include a “virgin birth” and the enlightenment of other spiritual pioneers beyond Christianity?” Loomer was a fan of ambiguity and contrast: the world was filled with possibility and challenge – opposites did not exclude each other but could be understood as paradoxes and polarities. Loomer understood the meaning of the “word made flesh” as he faced his own aging and diminishment yet joyfully embraced the totality of life, including its challenges. A good life includes death and aging as well as birth and vitality.
Loomer would have felt comfortable with the possibility of Jesus being married and the radical comment (at least to the more proper among us), true of the fully human Messiah and every other baby, “Jesus pooped!” That’s what it means to be fully alive – to embrace the totality of your experience – and the earthiness of it all – without losing your fluid spiritual center. Early Christian theologians asserted that Jesus made holy all life holy by living through each season of human existence – from conception to infancy, toddlerhood, adolescence, adulthood, and death. Life in its fullness is complex, messy, and often ambiguous as well as amazing and beautiful. In fact, our experiences of beauty and wonder may emerge from the humus of life’s messy compost.
Today’s readings proclaim that both Jesus and Samuel grew in stature, or size, and favor with God and humankind. Stature is our ability – and Christ’s ability – to embrace all of life, welcoming the lost and challenging the powerful. Nothing is off limits for Jesus, and for his followers. No one is outside the circle of God’s love.
John’s Gospel proclaims that “the true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.” “Everyone” affirms the stature of Jesus’ incarnation. Light shines everywhere. Wisdom inspires everyone. The path may be long and circuitous but the light will eventually guide every pilgrim home.
The radical word for Christians today is to celebrate the incarnation – God’s unique and life-transforming revelation in Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ – and recognize that Christ’s light is present everywhere and in every faith. Divine wisdom is plural and multivalent and that is good news, for it means that there is no East or West, North or South, Hindu or Christian, humanist or Buddhist, in God’s realm. All are loved and inspired, intimately and personally, depending on their context and past religious and cultural history.
On this most sacred of days, we need to remember the pagan origins of the dating of Jesus’ birth. This memory reminds that the light of Christ shines everywhere. We need to come out of the closet as Christians and truly address the reality and differences among the world’s faith traditions. We can no longer bar the gates of wisdom and salvation from persons of other faiths, nor can we assume that all paths lead to the same place or all religions are Christianity in disguise. Faithfulness to Christ challenges us to affirm the many and diverse paths of God and open our hearts to Christ’s in many forms and pathways.
Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and calls us to the same path of incarnational, affirmative, and universalist faith. Joy to the world, for God is here!
He is the Way.
Follow Him through the Land of Unlikeness;
You will see rare beasts, and have unique adventures.
He is the Truth.
Seek Him in the Kingdom of Anxiety;
You will come to a great city that has expected your return for years.
He is the Life.
Love Him in the World of the Flesh;
And at your marriage all its occasions shall dance for joy.