Cross-posted from Rougher Places …
Tonight’s nearly full moon is gleaming on the snow beds still lingering here and there around the house. This morning’s drive to church began in the “blow flurries” of wind-scattered tufts of snow falling from the trees, and was accompanied by white-lined trees and gilded tree-tops. It was all the hallelulia an attentive soul needed.
As the fourth Sunday of Advent passes, we are once again between times: just about done with Advent, but not quite to Christmas. We have four candles burning: for hope, love, peace and joy, with one tall white candle — the Christ candle — waiting for a Christmas kindling.
I have loved the challenge of these weeks, wrestling with the texts each morning to wring a blessing from them to match the day.
But today was too beautiful to write in: this morning it was the snowy light holding my eye; this afternoon it was the warmth that pulled me outside to run. Even as the weather has stayed cold enough to build a thick layer of ice on the ponds and chill the ground to iron, I have kept running. Some days 28-degree runs, 30-degree runs … I’m happy to have kept moving.
So … no long reflection today … just a few thoughts.
My mind is going in three different directions tonight: One, I have to get up at 2:45 am to get my sweetheart up and onto an early plane. Two, a word to Ahaz. And three, the beginning of Jesus. In the body of a woman.
As for the first direction, well, you already know all you need to know about that. I’ll be up before you are.
As for the second … This text came up in the daily readings a while back, and although I was intrigued by it, I didn’t go there; I wrote about one of the other readings for the day. But tonight, I am still caught by this intro:
Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.
Isaiah is the one hearing Ahaz’s demurral, which sounds completely respectful of the Almighty, if you ask me. But Isaiah did not ask me, and gets pretty testy with Ahaz. “Okay, wise guy, as if it’s not enough you are wearing out the people around you, you want to get cute with God, too? Hear, then, hear the word of the Lord.” And the prophet goes on to do what prophets do, prophesy. The prophetic word is one that Christians have totally taken the ball and run with, which is not the best approach in all settings, because the prophecy had its own meaning and its own integrity back in the day.
But that’s not what I’m interested in tonight. Tonight, it’s the Lord’s invitation to Ahaz:
Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.
Wow. That’s an amazing thing to say. Ask a sign of God: no question is too deep or too lofty.
Ahaz is scared to ask. I am, too. I have been waiting for — and looking for — the path God wants me to take. But that’s not the same, really, as asking a sign of God.
Of course, this word came from the Lord to Ahaz, not me. But I tend to read the Bible as though I am in the story, and to imagine if the word of the Lord was directed at me.
In this case, to imagine that the Lord has said to me, “Go ahead. Ask me for a sign ….”
All right, Lord. I’m asking for a sign. And I’m believing that it is even now barreling down on me like a Peterbilt.
Which brings us to the third direction my mind is running in. The beginning of Jesus, in the body of a woman. As we go there, let’s collect a few tools to think with.
First thinking tool: the notion of a trinitarian God. We Christians believe that the monotheistic God of the long-ago Israelites and of today’s Jewish peoples is the same God that we think of as God the Creator, God the Holy Spirit, and God the Christ. Not three people; not three gods; just three-somehow-in-one. God as Trinity.
Second thinking tool: the incarnation, which is the idea that God became incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ, a flesh-and-blood human being who was born, grew up, and lived a human existence, just as all humans do. Except that he was God incarnate, God in the flesh, or, as the Hebrew puts it, immanu-el, God-with-us, experiencing everything we do. (Theologians have written millions of words about how and why God and Jesus did this. We won’t go there tonight.)
Third thinking tool: perichoresis, which is a Greek word used to describe the experience of God in the trinity. It sounds like “choreography,” because it is. Perichoresis means something like to “interpenetrate,” or to move in and around within and among (yeah, like a circle dance, weaving). Each aspect of God in the trinity — God, Spirit, Christ — experiences what the others do. The theologians call it perichoretic intimacy. Cool, huh? (Maybe only to theo-geeks like me. But I like it a lot.)
So, God and Mary get a baby going, who is going to be named Jesus. Neither you nor I know for sure how that got started, but you and I both know how it progressed, and how it ended up.
Within Mary’s body, a group of cells began to separate and differentiate. This mass of cells eventually became a fetus, with a heart beating after around two months. As the baby grew, it became able to move, and to perceive sounds in its mother’s body. As most babies do, it likely grew calmer when she was walking around and busy, and got more active when she laid down at night.
Now, remember our tools? Trinity? Incarnation? Perichoretic intimacy?
God knows what it feels like, to lie deep within the body of a woman, a woman giving of her food energy and her own body’s calcium and the life in her blood, to build bones and nerves and muscles, to build a body that God already inhabits. God knows from the inside out what we humans do to help create life, particularly we female humans who provide the first shelter any human knows.
I can imagine this woman lying on her bed in the evening, pondering, feeling the little cotton balls batting around inside her belly, wondering at the movement and life within. And then, as the months went on, sleeping getting more difficult. The soft internal bumps turning to the nudging fists and knees of a bony being running out of room.
And then that long donkey ride. Good grief. I can’t imagine anything more sure to trigger labor.
First labor … strange place … dark night … a woman and a man doing their best to help a baby come. I just hope someone provided what they needed: water, clean bedding, perhaps help. Hours of sweat, probably crying out and tears, and then blood. So much blood and water running out of her body, and then, finally, a baby. More cries, more tears, and perhaps some weak laughter of relief. Quiet … and a baby’s mouth finding a breast, and life. God perceiving from an embodied perspective — for the first time — what we humans experience in our barely-conscious dependence on the people who bring us into the world.
I wonder … what did God learn, from God’s infant life? God’s childhood? God’s struggle — as we all do — to get grown?
And I think about Mary. It’s hard to see past the icons and cartoons … but I think of how our tradition has held onto the idea of this woman, this necessary woman. Because you don’t have God incarnate without a woman, to give of her very self — from cells to blood to milk. She was the first to give herself to Jesus.
I want, somehow, to find a healthy place to stand in the face of that. Somewhere between the abusive church teachings that that is all women are for — to give themselves to men, and abnegate themselves — and on the other hand, a false autonomy that knows no embodied commitment, even to Love.
Whatever Mary did or did not know about the child she bore, she did — at the very least — the thing that love does: she made it possible for there to be life. She gave abundance a chance to happen.
That may be where we are, today. Waiting for a sign of how we are to make abundance happen.
I asked for mine.
Have you asked for yours?