God Lives and Comes to Expression in Us.

Posted: December 27, 2021 in Uncategorized

God Lives and Comes to Expression in Us.

Shepherds, angels, wise men, virgins giving birth to sons of god… How do we hear these stories?
Stories from a different world to the one we live in. It’s not often we run into shepherds, angels, kings (or many wise men!) in our daily lives. And if we do, they don’t seem to live in the same world. Many of us de know or knew people who farmed sheep – indeed, many New Zealanders have family links to a sheep farm somewhere in their historical circle.

But how many of us know shepherds who actually live in their paddocks with the flock. Doesn’t mean there weren’t or aren’t any but most of us just don’t run into them in our daily rounds to the supermarket or the local watering hole. Even if we might believe in angels there is a vast number of beliefs about what they are and how one might recognize them. The certainty is that I don’t think I have met very many, except in the romantic sense perhaps! But angels bounding about to and fro, in and out of heaven, proclaiming things in lights, is and has not been part of my experience.

I haven’t met any kings either. Shepherds, angels, wise men, virgins giving birth to sons of god…
These are characters from an age long past. I was reminded in a Westar Article just recently of the understanding at the time of Jesus and before about the universe, it being a three tiered one with the firmament firmly flat and in the middle of two tiers of waters below and waters above. and the subsequent shift to an understanding of the firmament being the sky but still three tiered. We haven’t lived in their world for a long time.  If ever. Yet we repeat these stories year after year.

What does it mean, if anything, today? How do we hear these stories? In contrast to Matthew and Luke, who are the storytellers charming us at Christmas with Lectionary stories about angels and shepherds and wise men and virgin births, John plays the theologian. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… The Word was made flesh and lived among us…” Well, theologian John certainly is as he seeks to articulate his God-expressions. But, I’m not sure I am ready to be confronted with this heavy theological treatise! The trouble is that neither do I want to just piously nod a slumbering holiday approval, for John’s words bristle with possibilities that need to be appreciated. They are an approach to what an incarnate God might be.

 The first of these is what we would now call a radical, postmodern approach in that the God of John the theologian has us repeatedly encounter a multi-moving, acting God. A ‘verb’ rather than a ‘noun’ is the way it is often described. God is a doing word as opposed to a naming one. The Catholic feminist theologian Mary Daly to asks: “Why indeed must ‘God’ be a noun?  Why not a verb – the most active and dynamic of all?  …The anthropomorphic symbols for God may be intended to convey personality, but they fail to convey that God is Be-ing.” Here I would suggest again my word ‘Almost’ is about belonging rather than be-ing a being. Indeed, the new church season we are about to move into next week, called Epiphany, unveils and celebrates the dynamic, present-ness of this lively, innovative God, in everyday life. Not a presence but a present-ness, or as old philosophy might have said, a horse-ness as opposed to a horse.

The second thing is that Theologian John uses dynamic and relational words and images. And in general terms so too does the whole of the biblical tradition: bringing, gathering, consoling, leading, understanding, granting, scattering, choosing, forgiving.

In these multiple actions, God is always ‘acting’, and in all these many ways, creation is always the subject of God’s great demonstrations of affection. But I think we get a bit stuck when we hear the English translation, ‘word’. In English, ‘word’ is usually given the meaning of sounds or its representation in letters put together for oral or written communication. Printed word. Radio word. But the Hebrew for ‘word’ is ‘dabhar’ which means divine creative energy. The word that gave birth. Those of you who are right-brain thinkers will probably have already resonated with this and made a connection. For the Hebrew ‘dabhar’ is about the creative, the imaginative, the heart, the feeling.

The third thing is that this divine creative energy is more than just a concept. The Season of Epiphany also reminds us that the ‘word’ is made flesh. It lives among us.  Moves within and among all things. Inspiring us to think and sing and dance with integrity and historical and intellectual honesty. As Lily Tomlin reminds us in her play Search for intelligent life in the universe… We need to be aware of the goose-bump experiences of life. We need to practice ‘awe-robics’.

The great challenge of Christmas is that it is the season when we celebrate God-with-us. Traditionally this is called ‘incarnation’. But ‘incarnation’ is more than just ‘Christmas’. Most of us can sense this Creative God-with-us Present-ness in the immensity of our evolving universe, in the incredible display of evolving life-forms on this planet. Most of us can sense this evolving, living, life force, this energy, this present-ness in the evolving society and in our psyche and thus in our daily living as a human being. All our collected human wisdom, using that word as the goal of human intellectual evolution, is a visible expression of this God-with-us Present-ness, active for millions of years in human development, active in all places, at all times, in individuals and cultures, seeking expression in the positive betterment of humanity.

What is distinctive in the Judeo-Christian world is that John the theologian makes the incredible claim that the one called Jesus of Nazareth can be discerned in this Present-ness. At this time of the year, and as progressive Christians, we rejoice in the birth of Jesus. In him we see the fullness of human possibility: to make God visible in our lives. In him we have seen this Present-ness come to expression in human form. In him life makes sense. And we rejoice that this same Jesus led people to discover the sacred in the ordinary: in the crowd, in the lowly, in everyday life, in human yearnings to be better people, and in being neighbour to one another. But unlike some traditional Christian thinking the work of God-with-us, of incarnation, is not over. The divine, the sacred, the present-ness we understand as God continues to be embodied today, as we live in God and God lives and comes to wonderful expression in us, and our world. This story is about the incarnate, present-ness, the dynamic human expression of God-ness.

As theologian Karl Peters suggestively says: “The divine is continually present churning up the waters of life.  If we are in tune with… the Word that signifies the hidden structures of life’s possibilities, we will discover… new ways of acting, thinking, and feeling.  These will add to the richness of our lives in a continuing evolving world” (Peters 2002:59). This if is huge also in that it entails the human mind, the human choice, the human possibility, the incarnate incarnation so to speak.

So, Christmas in a progressive sense is to celebrate the gift of our full humanity, and network together for a more loving communion with that which we name Serendipitous Creating or God, as verb, and to take time to celebrate that this is a living dynamic embodiment that comes about in our be-ing, with each other. Amen.

Peters, K. E. “Confessions of a practicing naturalistic theist” in Zygon: Journal of Religion & Science 40, 3, 701-720, 2005.
Peters, K. E. Dancing with the Sacred. Evolution, Ecology, and God. PN: Harrisburg. Trinity Press International, 2002.


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