In many ways my friends, we have Americanized or maybe more precisely we have Europeanized the Incarnational experience.
What I mean is that we put onto the Birth of Jesus the Christ, a lens of perspective, of which the Gospel writer would have never even been able to comprehend.
You see Art and the Romantic Movement in Art has often misshaped our theological understanding.
It is not Hallmarks fault; they simply capitalized on the beauty of modern understandings….
Yet Biblical Scholarship helps us to understand the reality of the Birth of Jesus and all the events and stories surrounding it in an entirely different perspective.
How many of us have Nativity scenes in our homes?
Nearly all of us right?
In one form or another….
now correct me if I am wrong, but nearly every commercially produced Nativity, has a Joseph, a Mary, a Baby Jesus…..sometimes if really costly, they will come with a shepherd or two, some sheep, goats, usually a little nightlight showing in a little barn/lean to structure—if they are really, really costly…they may even have the “three kings” on camels with gold frankincense and myrrh.
Biblical Scholars would never buy this perspective…..
According to Sacred Scripture…a point we often miss…everyone was to go to their town of birth to register for the census. That would mean that Joseph and Mary, would have most likely been traveling with a group of brothers, sisters and families all directly related to Joseph…most likely a group in the numbers of 50-75 people…a small caravan, young, old, healthy and infirm…no one would have had a
place in the Inn….most inn’s had two rooms at best…
A nomadic people, with trades persons interspersed would have had tents and camels and supplies…
The birth of Jesus would have most likely taken place, in the midst of an entire family unit…a community of persons…not two parents abandon to their own little stable…
Jesus was most likely not the only one born on the journey…and todays gospel doesn’t say it….but as one of my best Scripture professors used to say….we need to pay attention as much to what is not said as to what is said in Sacred Scripture…the entire group, especially those who had small children would have all set out on the journey to Egypt.
Archeological research has proven that in Egypt there were numerous Judean villages and encampments….Egypt was known as a refuge for those fleeing Roman persecution. It was a safe haven, of other Jewish settlers.
So Jesus, Mary and Joseph, in all likelihood did not arrive alone in a foreign country…they most likely settled in a country with kinsfolk who knew and understood their plight.
Many Scripture Scholars say that the Holy Family, would have most likely returned to the region some thirteen years after the birth of Jesus…some say even longer…maybe 20+ years. And again…not alone…it would have most likely been a familial return…50-75 folks.
So what….so what about this is all so important?
I think one thing might be simply this…that the experience of the Incarnation of God….the experience of God becoming one with us…Emmanuel…is most fully encountered as a group experience.
In the midst of Community…
…it stands in direct contrast to the notion of the experience of God as an individual experience rather than a corporate one.
It is one thing that makes the Catholic Faith so radically different…we believe that the encounter of God is a We and Jesus, not a Me and Jesus event.
Even the first three words of our Creed….We believe…
It is precisely why the Church teaches that Sacraments…..ALL are not private events….every Sacrament, is a communal experience….a communal experience of God.
Can we have or do we have individual encounters with the Divine? Yes! Yet the way we verify, the way we substantiate, the way those experiences are given voice are done in the midst of the community.
Our faith, my friends, stands in direct, and explicit contradiction to the modern notion of radical rugged individualism…
It is why we gather as a community to pray,
it is why we gather as a community to break bread,
it is why we come with all our warts and joys and sorrows, our hopes and dreams and we put them here into the midst of our prayer and we ask God’s blessing and affirmation.
Being in community is not easy….it challenges us, it tears at the scabs of our wounds and pushes us to grow in holiness.
Community is the place in which the Incarnation is born over and over again.
You see it is this understanding that the apostle Paul brings when he says to the Colossians…Because you are God’s chosen ones….clothe yourself with heartfelt compassion….
It is community that refines our sinfulness and brings our holiness to fruition.
I remember saying to my Spiritual Director in Seminary….why do I have to get up so darn early to go to morning prayer…I can just pray the Brievery in my nice warm bed in my own room…to which he replied…you need to go just so the person next to you can piss you off and force you to become more holy.
Being in community is not easy…and neither is the journey of faith…
It is not easy, but we have a path…a direction, a map, a way…
first compassion, then forgiveness, then love.
So the next time we are pushed,
the next time we want to lash out and point fingers or speak in gossip or anger…
we can remember that maybe God is being given the opportunity to be born once again in us.
Maybe we can speak to one another with love and compassion
and from that place,
invite those around us to accountability and their own holiness.
I know from my own experience, that when I harbor resentment and anger toward another, it has only served to drive me further and further into distrust, resentment and more anger.
When I put on the cloak of compassion, then, then I have found I am set free to step above the resentment, to lift the person with whom I am struggling to higher levels of accountability and hope.
Maybe that is one invitation of this feast day…to consider how we can don the cloak of compassion and release ourselves from the bondage of resentment and anger.
As we say in recovery circles…harboring a resentment is like taking poison ourselves hoping the other person will die…experience has shown it doesn’t work!
Maybe compassion, forgiveness and love do?
Gracious God, you call us to live in community with one another and
encourage us to discover the divine indwelling in that process. Give us
the gifts of compassion, forgiveness and love to guide us on the journey
of life. We lift this prayer to you, knowing you are one God forever and
Loving God, as we place these gifts on your altar may you pour out your
blessing on us so that we can in receiving them back from you be
models of holiness for our world. As your human family we remain
convinced of your presence in our lives. We lift this prayer to you, one
God for ever and ever.
Merciful God; inspire us with the gift of compassion, the inspiration of
forgiveness and the hope that love can unite us as your people. Help us
to live as models of holiness for our world. We lift this prayer in your
name, Emmanuel, God with us, now and forever.