Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Christmas Questions

A Sermon Preached to the
First Unitarian Church
of Albuquerque, New Mexico
by Christine Robinson
December 19, 2004

(condensed by yours truly for mjae.blogspot.com)

Some people look for answers in stories, symbols and cultural practices, but I have always gotten more out of looking for questions. Why do we do this, and what need does it fill, and what is the story saying to our souls? These are questions that one could ask about many stories and seasons, but none better than Christmas. In the Christmas story and our Christmas customs are two of the most important questions there are: "Where is God," and "Where is Good?"

The myth of the incarnation suggests to us that the world is sacred and that every human being, even the most difficult, is also sacred. To take this wisdom seriously is to realize that every person has a divine spark; it says to us that every human being claims an ultimate dignity; even the poor, the sick, the incompetent, the hard to understand. And the incarnation challenges us to see that that dignity is honored in all of the institutions of our world; to work for justice, to love, to help. It challenges us to find the best, the divine, in all of our neighbors, not just the easy ones. This is Humanistic theology. It, too, is an answer to the Christmas Question.

It also suggests to us that divinity partakes in some of the things we value most in ourselves as humans; the ability to grow, learn, change. This is, once again, contrary to the official theology of God, which says that God is perfection itself; the unmoved mover, the almighty, omnipotent, everlasting, unchanging paragon of every virtue. While there is something at least philosophically compelling about such a perfect God, it leaves us emotionally empty, and is not really kin to our experience of what is good or interesting in life.

If our God is what we most value and care for in our lives, the sum of the highest and greatest and most beautiful things we can imagine, then we are almost required to believe in the Process god, for what I love in life is its changes, what I value in others is their responsiveness (which is to say, their willingness to be moved) and what I most hope for in myself is growth and the enlargement of my spirit. If God is to be the best that I know and the sum of the things I value, my god must be a growing god, one whose essence validates in me what I most value in myself and others. God, the child, is a perfect symbol of such a divinity.

The second of the Christmas Questions is, "Where is Good?", and it arises, not so much from the Nativity story as from the accretion of cultural customs which practically overwhelm us at this time of year. And with good reason. The celebration of the Winter solstice is the oldest of celebrations. It is our way of remembering that we belong to the Earth and its cycles. We are nature. The darkness enfolds us as surely as it enfolds the animals in their dens and the crops in the fallow fields. We humans use our ingenuity to light lamps and fires, to put holiday lights on our trees and around our doors, and in an important sense, these are ways, both symbolic and real, of fighting off the darkness.

Where is God? asks the Nativity story. God is here, the story answers, affirming, then, three things we often believe; that the sacred is here in the world with us; that there is a divinity in the human being, that God is a process, a pushing of growth, rather than an abstract perfection existing somewhere outside of this imperfect world. "Where is Good in the darkness?" asks the culture of Christmas. "Good is here", the culture answers; in ourselves, our neighbors, our children, our hearts. It's in the gifts, and the lights, and the cookies. It's in the sharing, the laughter, and the hope for peace.

Thus it is that the spirit of the season is one we seek to capture and hold through the year, for it is a sense that the sacred is here with us, that the glow of divinity is around us; in us, between us. So, Merry Christmas...and may the spirit of the season bring you joy.

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