The shiny additions to our Advent and Christmas visuals remind us that we are called to reflect the sacred each and every day. “Incarnation” is a word that means that God’s presence came to dwell among all people, and we believe this happened in a special way in the birth of Jesus. All creation has always been imbued with the Creator’s brilliance. This season, we will remember the call to shine with this holy light.
Our theme for this Advent is Reflecting the Sacred, which is an invitation to each of us to pay attention to the places and people in our lives which provide a glimpse of God’s mercy and light to us and to our world. We are wells of the sacred. God’s presence is poured into creation in a never-ending flow of love. Each week, we are called to join in a time of prayer that invites us to be refilled in ways that can help us pour out our love throughout the week. All we must do in this moment is open our hearts to the Holy One. In Paul’s letters to the many communities he befriended, he often shared the teachings of Jesus and he always included words of inspiration to his beloved friends there. In his letter to Romans today, he wrote, “May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus…” — Romans 15: 4-13
If all persons have something of the divine within, how may we best apprehend that? Perhaps we need to change our point of view or see with new eyes and, yes, a new heart. And, how do we turn the gaze back upon ourselves and embrace that which is sacred within our very beings? Let us pray, O Holy One, you came in human form to walk with us and remind us of your hopes and dreams for our world. In Jesus, you shared your light of hope and he welcomed others in whom he saw the light of love. Help us to see in new ways. Help us to see your love within our deepest souls and within the hearts of others in the world. Amen.
It takes a special person to really live out this idea of seeing the divine in everyone they encounter, especially within those who are hardest to love. Mother Theresa often spoke about the ways in which her faith was the very foundation of her ministry to the sick and dying in India. “Seeking the face of God in everything, everyone, all the time, and his hand in every happening; This is what it means to be contemplative in the heart of the world. Seeing and adoring the presence of Jesus, especially in the lowly appearance of bread, and in the distressing disguise of the poor.”― Mother Teresa, In the Heart of the World: Thoughts, Stories and Prayers “I see Jesus in every human being. I say to myself, this is hungry Jesus, I must feed him. This is sick Jesus. This one has leprosy or gangrene; I must wash him and tend to him. I serve because I love Jesus.”
In the Universal Christ, Rev. Richard Rohr shares a story from the autobiography of the 20th century mystic Caryll Houselander in which she describes her journey on the Underground in London, which transformed her life. Houselander wrote, “I was in an underground train, a crowded train in which all sorts of people jostled together, sitting and strap hanging-workers of every description going home at the end of the day. Quite suddenly, I saw with my mind, but as vividly as a wonderful picture, Christ in them all. But I saw more than that. Not only was Christ in every one of them, living in them, dying in them, rejoicing in them, sorrowing in them-but because He was in them, and because they were here, the whole world was here too, here in this train, not only the world as it was at that moment, not only all the people in all the countries of the world, but all those people who had lived in the past, and all those yet to come.”
After a few days, she writes, “the ‘vision’ faded. People looked the same again, there was no longer the same shock of insight for me each time I was face to face with another human being. Christ was hidden again; through the years to come, I would have to see for Him, she said, and usually I would find Him in others-and still more in myself-only through the deliberate and blind act of faith.”
In the earliest days of Christianity, believers embraced the idea of the Risen Christ as ubiquitous and eternal, according to Scriptures. But over time, Rohr argues, we gradually limited the Divine Presence to the single body of Jesus. Rohr invites us to ponder these important questions about Christ:
What if Christ is a name for the transcendent within of every thing in the universe?
What if Christ is a name for the immense spaciousness of all true Love?
What if Christ refers to an infinite horizon that pulls us from within and pulls us forward too?
What if Christ is another name for everything in its fullness?
I understand that these are big questions to ponder, but I am confident that we have the capacity to expand our understandings of spirituality and that God is so much bigger than we can sometimes comprehend. And isn’t that wonderful?
At the same time, I deeply appreciate that grasping the presence of God in our midst is often easier when it is simple. I would suggest that we have the capacity to hold onto both-the expansive ideas about Christ and the divine alongside the stories of Jesus, his family, and his travels that continue to teach us how to love.
Our reading from Matthew’s Gospel returns us to the story of John the Baptizer who first spoke about the coming of Jesus into our world. “This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, ‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” — Matthew 3: 1-12. At the Jordan River, John was the first to see the fire of divinity in Jesus as we hear in John 1:29-34. Jesus then encountered the sacred as he recognized the dignity and blessing within each person he met.
We are in these days of Advent being invited to see in new ways, to see with the lens of the sacred, if you will, to open our senses to recognize the holy in all people–to come to know them in a “steadfast and encouraging” way. Our world is crying out for harmony and being able to see the Christ reflected in each other makes a path for this to be accomplished. We are inspired this week to see our own walk upon this earth as part of the call to be sacred people who usher in the presence of love.
In recent years, it certainly has seemed that too many of us are lost in the wilderness and the path surely has not been straight; we may be finding it harder to see the divine in others, but I hold onto the scriptural promise that God is present in a steadfast and encouraging way until we can find our way to that deep connection with the Christ that unites us all. To move toward “seeing with oneness,” we must first look inward, seeing how we do not always honor this within ourselves and how then we project that suffering onto others.
One of Rohr’s most beloved quotes is that “God loves things by becoming them.” This is an incarnational worldview that makes the helps us better understand the presence of the Christ in the person of Jesus. The birth of a baby into a divided and dangerous world (yes, this has perhaps always been the condition of the world as it certainly was in the first century) is an important message to us that God is in love with each and every one of us–coming to show us how to be more fully human. John the Baptist’s presence in this Advent story reminds us of the moment when Jesus is baptized by John and the voice of God said, “This is my Son, with whom I am well pleased.” We all have a birthright of original blessing from God because we know this to be true of the One and Universal Christ.
Perhaps what we most need to do is simply practice a new way of seeing, a new way of being? What if we imagined the way we feel when we see a precious newborn infant as a lens for looking at others–beloveds and strangers–this week? What if we called to mind the way in which someone who loved us dearly and unconditionally as a child reflected back to us our great worth as a way to look at others.
Especially Relevant Reflections from Every Thing is Sacred
Reflection 4: Christ is Everywhere
Reflection 8: Becoming
Reflection 10: Including
Reflection 12: Image, Love, and Suffering
Reflection 17: Our Shadow
Reflection 29: Total Love