I have been inspired by the Celtic notion of “thin places” for many years. A thin place is a venue where divinity is transparent, where the Infinite and finite meet, and we catch a glimpse of the God’s vision for the cosmos and ourselves. A thin place reveals the spiritual and moral arcs of the universe and reminds us that God is present in every moment of experience and in each creature we encounter. The whole universe reflects the glory of God and so does the birth of a child. On Christmas, we recall that certain places more fully reveal divinity, enlivening and enlightening. The true light shines in a child’s birth, and from that shining the universe is illuminated. From this moment on, nothing is ever the same.
In whatever way we understand the Christmas stories - the incarnation, the birth of Jesus - this child’s birth illuminates the human adventure. Magi from the East, likely followers of Zoroaster, journey to the home of Jesus and his parents, reminding us of the universality of divine revelation. Spirit touches every heart and spiritual path. Marginalized shepherds, looked down by the sophisticated and affluent, receive angelic visitors, affirming God’s care for the marginalized and vulnerable and calling us to prophetic healing.
The Star of Bethlehem, 1887-1891. Sir Edward Burne-Jones *Nativity scene. To the left, Joseph, Mary and the infant Christ to the right, the three kings, Balthazar, Melchior and Gaspar. Source: Birmingham Museums Trust
A star shines, bursting forth in the trillion galaxy universe awakening us to the wonder of our becoming and our place as pilgrims on a great adventure.
A child is born, the hope of humankind, and a reflection of God’s vision of Shalom for all creation. The God of All Things chooses to be the God of This Thing, this moment, this child, this birth. Surely the God of the Universe can manifest the divine presence in unique and powerful ways just as we manifest ourselves in unique and powerful ways – in moments of birth, falling in love, standing for justice, experiencing holiness in our cells and souls, feeling in alignment with the Creative Wisdom that transforms galaxies and human lives. At such moments, the congruence of Divine Vision and our vision reveals itself in wonder and wisdom.
The birth of a child in Bethlehem is a unique but not a solitary event. The miracle of this birth reveals the miraculous nature of all creation and the birth of every child. The miracle of this birth – and we can believe in miracles without supernaturalism – points to the wonder of Life itself. The radical amazement, to use the language of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, that is at the heart of religious experience, giving birth to the great religious traditions and making it possible to experience all life as miracle.
On Christmas we can claim with author Madeleine L’Engle, that “the neutrino and the unicorn danced the night Christ was born.” Delivered from both literalism and skepticism, we find ourselves on Holy Ground, with all creation and the angelic hosts praising God, with cells and souls rejoicing. God is in this place, Bethlehem, and our place, where we are, and now we know it!
It is right that the date of Christmas and the Winter Solstice are companions. In darkness, there is fear, and there is also growth. On the shortest night of the year, and the darkest times of our lives and our planet’s history, we wonder if the days will ever grow longer and when they do, we rejoice, discovering that darkness has a light of its own and that within the womb of darkness new life emerges. We can stand for the earth, for justice, for love, and know that the Divine stands with us.
While there is much poetry in the Christmas stories, there is also deep truth. We don’t need to let unimaginative scholarship stifle our imaginations but need to see the deeper wisdom of a young woman’s “yes,” a bewildered father’s faith, and a humble birthplace that enlightens all creation and gives hope when we are tempted to resignation and hopelessness. The Word and Wisdom made flesh, a God with skin, and the dream that in that birth every child will find joy and wholeness.
And so in the spirit of the Bethlehem child and children everywhere, we pray with African American mystic and activist Howard Thurman:
Look well to the growing edge!
All around us worlds are dying and new worlds are being born;
all around us life is dying and life is being born.
The fruit ripens on the tree,
the roots are silently at work in the darkness of the earth
against a time when there shall be new leaves, fresh blossoms, green fruit.
Such is the growing edge!
It is the extra breath from the exhausted lung,
the one more thing to try when all else has failed,
the upward reach of life when weariness closes in upon all endeavor.
This is the basis of hope in moments of despair,
the incentive to carry on
when times are out of joint and men have lost their reason,
the source of confidence when worlds crash and dreams whiten into ash.
The birth of the child — life’s most dramatic answer to death —
this is the growing edge incarnate.
Look well to the growing edge!