The Birthing of a New World | December 12, 2021 by Dr. Kathryn Benton
Our opening music today speaks, I think, to the urgent need of divine intervention in our troubled world. We are in desperate need of an “intervention”…of direction and help. We are in need of God’s protection and care. And it is the birth of Jesus that we hope will set things straight…the “hope of the nations”. The words to this hymn are strong…they speak to our protection in times of trouble…they ask for God…Emmanuel…God with us to:
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night And death's dark shadows put to flight
Make safe the way that leads on high And close the path to misery
And in the last verse:
O come, Desire of nations, bind All peoples in one heart and mind; Bid envy, strife and quarrels cease; Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel.
These are profound expectations for the baby Jesus. There is a longing to be cared for…to be rescued from our strife. But in using the name “Emmanuel” (originally Immanuel), the song is also addressing the plea for help to ourselves…to humanity, since the meaning of this name is much broader than just the baby born on Christmas Day…the savior Jesus Christ. The name actually refers to the God that is with us and revealed in us…
This is more than an external God…more than a fatherly or motherly God. It is the actual heart of our existence…it is housed in our soul…and can be activated by our own efforts. Meister Eckhart, 13th century mystic, made this clear when he wrote:
What good is it to me if Mary gave birth to the son of God and I don’t give birth to the son of God in my person and my time and my culture?
This is a powerful statement! We are not off the hook. Christmas time is not a time to sit back and wait for the baby to be born to save us. The image of the Madonna and child is a powerful image that we need to internalize, rather that relegate to Mary only. It is as Thurman says, “…the hope of every generation”. It is “…the perennial sign of [our] attack on bigotry, blindness, prejudice, greed, hate and all the hosts of diseases that make of [our] lives a nightmare and holocaust”. This attack is summed up in Thurman’s Work of Christmas:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among others,
To make music in the heart.
Yes, this is the work…this is the attack on all that causes suffering and it is very powerful that a baby can do all that! The image of the baby speaks to Eckhart’s underlying belief that we can be born again…we can start over. This return to our roots…to our origins is our actual salvation…it is not an external force but a deeply internal one. It is housed in the deepest part of ourselves, as human beings, as animals and earth’s destroyers, but also hopefully as earth’s healers. This healing can start then with this birth…the birth of the son of God, not just as an idea but, according to Eckhart, as a profoundly intimate act. He wrote:
…though a man, I dreamt I was pregnant, pregnant with nothingness
and out of this nothingness God was born.
God was born…out of nothingness. So, it seems, that we have the potential to birth God in our souls AND in the world, through our acts of compassion, of love, of redemption…through works of social justice and healing, rooted in the love of God…the intimate connection that is much like that of the parent and child. This is not as far-fetched as it may sound. This potential is written in our DNA as well as in our souls.
Loren Eiseley, a scientist/poet, wrote of this journey…this immense journey of humanity. He may have read Meister Eckhart, for I feel that he is a kindred spirit. His view comes from the field of evolution…the strands of history that connect us with plants and animals and with every other being that has ever lived. He writes about these beings in terms of “becoming”. We are not finished yet…we are still evolving. Much like the baby and the experience of birth itself, there is ever a striving…a longing to experience the future…a future that is built on hope…a future that consists of peace and justice for all beings. Eiseley writes:
Great minds have always seen it. That is why man has survived his journey this long. When we fail to wish any longer to be otherwise than what we are, we will have ceased to evolve. Evolution has to be lived forward. I say this as one who has stood above the bones of much that has vanished, and at midnight has examined his own face.
Eiseley has “examined his own face”. He has, I suspect, found what Eckhart found…that internal place of nothingness where this birth can take place…the altar of the soul that Thurman describes. Is that altar a place where evolution can be lived forward? Is it a place of creativity and newness? Is it a place where Emmanuel can be born?
These are the questions that we can contemplate in this season of reflection…of expectation. Are we capable of birthing the child…the new beginning that is longing to be born right here…right now? And is this birth more than the birth of a human child? Is it a more universal, inclusive event…gathering into its embrace all birth, all beginnings, including the birth of the rose?
Thurman describes this birth as profoundly universal…all over the world and also within ourselves. He says that this event is:
…the breathless moment like the stillness of absolute motion,
when something new, fresh, whole,
may be ushered into the nations that will be
the rallying point for the whole human race
to move in solid phalanx into the city of God,
into the Kingdom of Heaven on the earth…
May we experience this breathless moment…the stillness of absolute motion. May we participate in this birthing of something new, fresh and whole that will help us move forward toward the reality of Beloved Community. May we take our place as the co-creators of this new creation!