God is Born Again: The Advent of Us

Advent Angel

“And so this is Christmas,” John Lennon once sang.

In the familiarity that comes with rote observance, do we ever pause to think about how strange this season is?

I think we’re noticing this year. As we celebrate the advent of a refugee mother and her partner, and their problematic, prophesied, poverty-crushing, progeny, I can’t help but think of the troubles we’re facing right now.

A Middle East torn apart by war and a refugee crisis. One of the warmest Christmas seasons on record on the U.S. East Coast. The Bible Belt is buckling on democracy. Continued systemic and personal violence against black and brown lives. A self-satirizing, narcissistic demagogue is about to ascend to the highest office in the land.

We’re experiencing a climate change, in our inner and outer worlds.

Clearly, our planet is in need of a Christmas miracle.

The question is, where should we look?

In first-century Palestine, a young unwed mother was told she would bear the Divine. Her homeland was under imperial occupation; her social standing and familial status was uncertain. So what did she do when she received word that she’d become Theotokos, bearer of God-with-us?

Mary of Nazareth couldn’t contain herself:

With all my heart I glorify the Lord!
In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior.
He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant.
Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored
because the mighty one has done great things for me.
Holy is his name.
He shows mercy to everyone,
from one generation to the next,
who honors him as God.
He has shown strength with his arm.
He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations.
He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones
and lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty-handed.
He has come to the aid of his servant Israel,
 remembering his mercy,
 just as he promised to our ancestors,
 to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.
– Luke 1:46-55 (Common English Bible)

In 20th-century Germany, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a theologian, instigator, and (ultimately) martyr against Hitler’s Nazi Party’s co-opting of God and country, drew inspiration from Mary’s defiant prayer for a decidedly different kind of Christmas. He said:

The song of Mary is the oldest Advent hymn. It is the most passionate, most vehement, one might say most revolutionary Advent hymn ever sung. It is not the gentle, sweet, dreamy Mary that we so often see portrayed in pictures, but the passionate, powerful, proud, enthusiastic Mary, who speaks here. None of the sweet, sugary, or childish tones that we find so often in our Christmas hymns, but a hard, strong, uncompromising song of bringing down rulers from their thrones and humbling the lords of this world.
– From Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Christmas Sermons, edited by Edwin H. Robertson.

Bonhoeffer drew Christmas strength from this uncompromising carol – a song not likely to be piped in as mall muzak to mollify the masses. Mary’s melody inspired Bonhoeffer and his Underground Seminary to release their religious pretense and practice the arcane discipline of ‘prayer and righteous action’ – the kind of momentum that led to outpoured lives.

Theirs were testimonies of resistance to the violently fashionable Christianity that was making Germany great again.

Girded with Mary’s Christmas carol of hope and resistence, and the Son that it heralded, the steadfast of Germany’s Confessing Church movement stood against genocide and the totalitarian hijacking of faith for nationalistic ends – even unto death.

Once again, we’re experiencing a climate change – in our inner and outer worlds.

Clearly, our planet is in need of a Christmas miracle.

The question is, where should we look?

In this same plot of Germanic land where Bonhoeffer dwelled, some seven centuries prior, the Dominican mystic and preacher Meister Eckhart lived through a similar period of upheaval – of need. In direct response to their own dire challenges, he asked his 13th-century Rhineland community:

What is my name?
What is your name?
What is God’s name?

He answered his own questions in this way:

Our name is: That we must be born.
The Creator’s name is: To bear.
The soul alone among all creation is generative like God is. We are all meant to be mothers of God.

What good is it for me that Christ was born a thousand years ago in Bethlehem, if he is not born today in our own time?

Mary the Liberator copy

If, as Scripture suggests, we are as Christ is

…potentially doing even greater things

partakers of one Spirit

hidden with Christ in God…

Then why not incubate the fertility that bears Divine life in our midst?

Because once again, we’re experiencing a climate change – in our inner and outer worlds.

Clearly, our planet is in need of a Christmas miracle.

The question is, where should we look?

In the 21st century, feminist icon and pastor’s kid Tori Amos re-visioned the classic Christmas hymn Star of Wonder. I hear its refrain as a prophecy of sorts:

Some say a star will rise again
in the hearts of humankind
Some say we have been in exile
What we need is solar fire!

Sisters and brothers and non-binary siblings: We’ve been exiled for too long. I invite you to consider that we’re living on a hinge of history.

As we say goodbye to 2016 in all its upheaval and prepare to greet a brand new year, let’s #StayWoke and visceral – present and witnessing the birth pangs of God being born again in the womb of us:

In our bodies, our lives, our communities, and our moment in time.

Our survival as a species and an ecosystem demands that we become the answer to our prayers.

Dare we pray as mother Mary prayed?

Dare we birth as Meister Eckhart midwifed?

Dare we sing as Sister Tori sings?

Dare we die, if needs be, as Brother Dietrich died?

Can we wake up as the incarnations of Christ who we are?

 

More Reading for the Advent-urous:

Jose y Maria

The Third Reconstruction: How a Moral Movement Is Overcoming the Politics of Division and Fear – William Barber III and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer – Charles Marsh

The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right – Lisa Sharon Harper

America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America – Jim Wallis 

Alternative Nativity – Kezia Here and There

The Christmas Revolution – Peter Wehner (New York Times)

A Theology of Cracked Spaces: A Confluence of Traditions to a Confluence of Spirit – Omid Safi (On Being)

Biblical birth narratives are weird and incredible. We can stop sanitizing them. – David O. Taylor (Washington Post)

Christmas, Incarnation, and Salvation – Stephanie VanSlyke (The Raven Foundation)

The Shepherd’s Joy – Luke 2 – Henry Smidstra (Clarion Journal)

12 Responses to God is Born Again: The Advent of Us

  1. Roy Coker December 25, 2011 at 11:19 am #

    Wonderful thoughts! (And I have always loved Meister Eckhart’s work from the first time I read them!)

    • Mike Morrell December 26, 2016 at 11:20 am #

      Thank you, Roy. I’m consistently encouraged and challenged by The Good Meister.

  2. Jim Braman December 25, 2011 at 11:32 am #

    Beuatiful truths, and all the more as I see them rising in your life, Michael. Looking forward to some face time in the New Year!

    For all the frustrated religious westerners, I leave this from Graham Cooke:

    “God is the Lover. You are the Beloved. Yor job is to be loved.”

    Merry Christmas, Michael, to you and all whom you love….

    • Mike Morrell December 26, 2016 at 11:21 am #

      Yes! I really appreciate Graham.

  3. Leanne Hunt December 28, 2011 at 2:34 pm #

    Thank you for this, Mike. It’s been a dark Christmas for many, but it was a dark season for Mary and Joseph too. A good reminder that birthing comes with birth pangs; with political and economic uncertainty, even to the point of forcing exile. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot put it out. If it is of God, it will come forth regardless of the circumstances.

    • Mike Morrell December 26, 2016 at 11:22 am #

      Yes indeed, Leanne. Something is waiting to be born…

  4. RR December 25, 2016 at 4:22 pm #

    Eclecticism at it’s most non-sensical!

    • Mike Morrell December 26, 2016 at 11:22 am #

      *its

  5. Joanne Wohlmuth December 26, 2016 at 8:55 am #

    Hi Mike,

    Thank you for this…it is beautiful and so pertinent to the teachings we are receiving. Thank you for your reflection and soulful provocation to this deeper thinking of Christmas as it relates to our world today.

    God bless you and your family! I look forward to further chats with you when we meet again.

    Blessings,
    Joanne

    • Mike Morrell December 26, 2016 at 11:37 am #

      You’re welcome, Joanne. Thank you!

  6. Carmeleta December 26, 2016 at 2:27 pm #

    You are right about real power that comes to us from the Creator when we align ourselves with His righteousness. It seems a little hazy suggesting that anyone with whatever set of values can rise up successfully against powers-that-be.

    I believe the power you describe as the “Bible Belt buckling on democracy” has right on their side! Let’s see the power of God take down this political correctness! What is right is not determined by democracy. Our Creator has the right to say what is right and wrong! Let’s all be on the winning side! (I read the end of the Book.)

  7. Linden December 27, 2016 at 9:56 pm #

    God is born again? We are all mothers of omnipotent God? Scriptural references please.

Leave a Reply