Medieval Christianity wrapped almost everything in a Christian ritual: birth, adulthood, vocation, marriage, death, the first day of the week, the seasons of the year, even the hours of the day.
The original Christmas rituals wrapped the darkest day of the year with the birth of a tiny light in this very dark season of Advent judgement—a single candle, a new star in the midnight sky, a tiny babe born in extreme poverty, an intrusion of something dangerous to the dark powers of degraded government. Even this inconspicuous tiny beginning of hope, the powers of darkness sought to kill.
The good-news narrative of Matthew envisioned the true wisdom of the world coming to visit this birth. And the good-news narrative of Luke envisioned poor nighttime sheep keepers joining the party.
This has been an especially dark Advent season for me. The biggest, richest, greediest corporations on the surface of the planet are doing cartwheels of delight over the president-elect of my nation, a man who claims that the climate crisis is a hoax. But I groan in grief that adequate action to moderate the most horrific crisis humanity has ever faced may be still further delayed. In addition, I see the prospects for relieving poverty and low wages being neglected and billionaires. further empowered I also see backward motion on finishing the overthrow of our unacknowledged and unconfessed minority enslavements and patriarchal oppressions.
I even groan over the unconsciousness of the population of my own Texas county, of my own mostly good-hearted neighbors, 1 out of 2 of whom did not even vote, and of those who did vote, 4 out of 5 voted for the dark side. Such are my surroundings as I light my Christmas candle on the darkest day of the annual calendar,
All rituals are, of course, sort of silly. It is only the darkest day in the northern hemisphere, and those Medieval ritual makers missed December 21st by four days. But silly rituals can sometimes point beyond themselves to the dynamics of life that matter most. So what is this tiny Christmas hope all about?
Our first good-news narrative, accredited to someone named “Mark,” did not tell of a baby’s virgin birth, but of a “heavenly” second birth of a poor roof-repair man being doused by a wild man in the waters of the river Jordan. Both John and Jesus apparently gave this ritual the meaning of washing away the cruel darkness of grim estrangements gripping that out-of-the-way religious people of ancient origins. When in Mark’s story, Jesus came up out of that washing, the very heavens announced him as another real threat to the evil powers of the world. Being such a hope for the downtrodden and such a peril to the establishment hypocrites drove Jesus to undergo a long fast, in which he grappled with his possible vocations. In the wilderness, alone, with only wild nature and enigmatic angels to comfort him, Jesus decided to take on his dangerous vocation. This was Mark’s new birth of hope. The rest of Mark’s narrative reveals the “secret” of this new hope. And here it is. When we die to our clinging to all our temporal devotions, we are left with the resurrection of our authenticity.
The fourth good-news narrative, accredited to someone named “John,” told of a “virgin birth” that can happen to any of us who choose to join Jesus in his mode of living.
What then is this “virgin birth” that anyone can share? Well, it turns out that it is simply this: When we die to our clinging to all our temporal devotions, we are left with the resurrection of our authenticity. When that has taken place, we are born of Final Realty—freed from our parental upbringing and open for the real future we face. This is the virgin birth. This is the hope of Christmas. This is the core healing of the dark powers of the world, and the dawn of the Final Commonwealth of Ultimate Realism.
How is this so? If by this “virgin birth” we are freed from the powers of the past and open for the future, whatever that future may be, we are participating in the solution to any and every cruel problem that needs to be solved.
For example, here is the virgin-birth contribution to the moderation of the climate crisis—dying to the need for fossil fuels and open for a future with only sunshine to power the lives of the many billions. This will include more dying and openness that goes along with the climate crisis. We will need to die to having billionaires and grueling poverty, and be open for an economic justice that includes everybody—blacks, whites, browns, yellows, reds, greens, women, men, and any other color or gender or culture.
It may seem strange that all this begins with a few million virgin births, but that is just the way it is. Without these virgin births the same old karma carries us into the abyss of disintegration and total despair. But when the millions and billions share in the virgin birth, anything is possible. When the virgin born say, “Move!” to our mountains of wrong, those mountains simply move. The demons will cry out in wild backlashes, but they are on the wrong side of realism. Reality always wins in the end. The virgin born get to choose how they would like for Reality to win. The cosmic power that the virgin born breathe and live, can enable these surprising but ordinary folk to claim the victories that they are willing to live and die for.
Sure, the future will be a surprise, for many other forces are at play than the historical forces of the virgin born; nevertheless, the future will be very different because the virgin born live their lives and do their doing.
For more 21st Century theologizing on these core topics, I recommend the following essay on the controversial topic of “God” and Part One of my revised commentary on the Gospel of Mark: