Sunday, December 25, 2011

Imagining Christmas Morning

In year 3 of this reading plan, Calvin gave me new perspective by explaining that Christ’s entire earthly life was a redemptive act. From humbling Himself at the Conception, through birth in a feeding trough and life as a carpenter, all the way to his crucifixion – every aspect of his incarnate life was an act of human obedience that set, proved, and satisfied the standard for our race. His death, Calvin explains, was the central act of redemption, not the only act.

The Book of Common Prayer’s Litany, which I pray about once a month, confirms this idea in a section that read this way:
By the mystery of thy holy Incarnation; by thy holy Nativity and Circumcision; by thy Baptism, Fasting, and Temptation,
Good Lord, deliver us.

By thine Agony and Bloody Sweat; by thy Cross and Passion;
by thy precious Death and Burial; by thy glorious Resurrection
and Ascension; and by the Coming of the Holy Ghost,
Good Lord, deliver us.
This idea came up yet another time in year 3 when I also read – and put into practice – Ignatius Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises. In one section, Loyola leads the reader through a series of meditations on events in the life of Jesus: the discussion with the teachers when He was twelve, his baptism, his temptation, his arrest, and so on. In each case, Loyola calls the reader to engage the imagination of all five senses: What do I see? What do I hear? What do I feel? What do I smell? What do I taste?

This morning, I am imagining myself in a dirty cave. The strong but not-so-offensive smell of barnyard waste hits my nose. The animals keep up a sporadic drone of scraping hooves, swishing tails, and calm bleating and lowing. My mouth feels the dryness of the morning, and I drink some metallic tasting water from a skin pouch. I see a little family with a newborn, wrapped tightly in a worn cloth marked with a couple of dull purple stripes. I don’t see halos. I remember seeing some shepherds come in a couple of hours ago, telling of strange visions. I run outside to look at the indigo sky but see no signs of angels or heavenly armies. As I come back in, I hear the sucking sound of a baby drinking. The father has both satisfaction and sleepiness on his face; the young mother’s face shows exhaustion and a quizzical amazement. After the meal I reach out a finger and touch the baby’s palm. He closes his fingers around my finger and holds it. I feel the hard stones pressing on my bended knees and the beginnings of tears forming in my eyes.

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