The Soul of the Whole

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,
And with your captive children dwell.
Give comfort to all exiles here,
And to the aching heart bid cheer.

That hymn is one of only three Advent songs in our hymnal.

Emmanuel means, literally, “God with us.” Religious liberals hold varied ideas about the Holy, about God if we use that language. And yet our sanctuary will fill with more people on Christmas Eve than on any other time during the year. Why is that so, year after year? Few of us believe there is truth in those miracle stories of virgin birth, a new star in the east, no room in the inn.

Is it simply habit? Is it the power of our commercial culture? Is there some deep-seated need to come together during the days of long dark to search for hope?

Or is there something in the Christmas story that speaks even to our very humanistic spirits a yearned for and compelling word of hope?

The Christmas miracle centers on God’s entrance into the world and into history in the physical person of a human child. This is not the transcendent God of Glory, but the vulnerable God of Possibility that needs nurture and care.

Christmas is about the indwelling of God among us and within us. Each child born is another redeemer, we say. The spark of divinity resides in each human heart, we proclaim.

What do we mean when we speak of that spark? What are we saying about human beings and what are we saying about God?

I preached last Sunday that God might be understood to exist in the final inch between those fingers in Michelangelo’s famous image on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. I suggested that the holy occurs in the interplay or the play between creatures and creation itself.

The earth centered traditions deal with our participation in creation with greater clarity and ease, but that theological point of view also has a tradition in Unitarianism that goes back at least to the Transcendentalists.

In this first week of Advent, let me share a reflection by Unitarian Saint, Ralph Waldo Emerson about that spark of divinity:

“Mysterious is the union of human and God.
The person, who with honesty worships God, becomes God;
Over and over the growth of this better self is new. …
When we have moved beyond our god of tradition,
And stopped listening to our god of lecture,
Then may God fire the heart with God’s presence.
The heart opens, with a power of growth, to a new infinity
On every side.
Within us is the soul of the whole…the wise silence, the universal beauty,
Where every part and particle is related: the Eternal One.”

It may be harder to open our hearts this year than most. The world feels so much more challenging. Or perhaps, it will be easier this year because our need is so much greater.

May this holiday season renew both our strength and our hope.