The Festival of Christmas calls us to celebrate the birth of the Child, the new human being. But what is that makes us truly human?
When we speak of the mistakes that we or others make, we sometimes say: Well, I’m only human. As in, don’t expect so much. I’ve got a lot to deal with in life, and I just couldn’t manage more than this. And it is true.
We can imagine all the situations in which we or another person in our lives just did not measure up to the expectations, hopes or desires of others or ourself. It is terribly painful to be aware of this. We miss a lot of opportunities to be our best self, to be something more than our ingrained habits or limitations allow us to be.
The experience of feeling “I’m only human” has something to do with the challenges of what it means to live incarnated in the world as a being of body, soul and spirit, all at the same time. We have aspects within our body and soul especially that give in to “gravity” more often than not. Things that pull us into ourselves, or down into the cares of life, losing ourselves in the desires of the soul and body, rather than finding ourselves through them (which is also possible!) We are prevented from taking risks by fear; we are hesitant to step out of our comfort zone and it is even hard to think of others sometimes. One could go on. But we all know the daily struggles that hold sway in the inner dialogue that is happening all the time.
Probably each of us can say something about what being “truly human” means—the hopeful side, the ideal, the potential that lives in our spirit: the shining example of true humanity that each of us also longs to make real. Our hearts are desperate to be able to stretch into this truer way of being. We say of a person who we deeply admire—that person is a real Mensch. This is the picture of the human being who is present to the needs of others, who makes time for what is important, who strives to be more human for the world around them.
What makes it possible for us to become that kind of human being more of the time? It is in the practice of offering. Offering, by necessity, is a free act. No one can make us offer of ourselves. Only each of us can say: I will offer of myself—my gifts, my talents, my money, my thoughts, my heart, my devotion. At Christmas, the greatest act of offering is made to show us the way: the divine world offers, and the Son of God is born on earth to become one with us. We receive the offering of the divine, and we are inspired to make of our own lives an offering.
We exercise our highest potential as human beings when, regardless of what we have, who we are, how poor we feel—we offer something of ourselves into the world. There is nothing more human, and there is nothing more valuable than this gift. This is our practice of learning to love, and this is how we follow Him, the being of Love incarnate. This is the deed by which we can join in the healing of the whole world.
During these Holy Nights, we will look at the evolution of the Christian festivals through the course of the year. Perhaps it is a bit jolting to hear the gospel reading from Advent this morning, now that we stand firmly in the light of the Christmas festival. But the Holy Nights give us a special opportunity to look at the coming year during this time called “the year between the years,” and in these days, we will enter into the Christian festivals to better prepare the year ahead. Held by the special mood of Christmas, we can perhaps gain new insights into the meaning of the ongoing Christian story for our lives.
At Christmas, the Child is placed before us. When Christmas first broke upon the world, it was a new revelation, a great act of God’s love for us: we were losing our way, and a new beginning was given to us in the Child.
In that time, the Advent preparation was hidden from us, it was not a human act but took place in the heavenly realms, the long preparation for the Incarnation of the Son of God. It was only visible to human beings in the wise guidance given to the Israelites, in their religious devotion to living the Law given through Moses, to create a right hereditary stream for the preparation of an earthly human being who could receive the divine. Forty-two generations from Abraham to Jesus.
But we have progressed, and the human being is now asked to celebrate Advent in order to rightly prepare for the birth at Christmas, which has grown now out of that first birth. The birth that was initiated so long ago continues now: the birth of the true human being, “spiritual-physical.” This is the human being who we are becoming, the one conceived of in the Creation of the World, the one made in God’s image.
And at Advent, it is not the child placed before us—no, the reading we hear places us firmly in our troubled, tumultuous times—a grown up description of the true state of things. And into the center of this time on earth, it is the Son of Man who is placed before our souls. A new human being, who was first born in and through that Child God born on earth. Through his life, death, resurrection, and Ascension, he becomes something new for us: a new Ancestor, to begin a new hereditary stream from within our present humanity.
This is how we can say we are human beings, and yet we are not yet fully human. This is why any one of us, despite what we have been given in the past, whatever we have suffered or felt bound to, we always have a chance to change our lives. We can relate to our family or origin in new ways, and we can make bonds of love and commitment to those who are not within that stream. We can change the course of our destiny! It is not easy, but it is possible.
We need Advent every year to hep prepare for this ever deepening birth: the human being is being reborn from the inside: to overcome the forces of the past and of death, and develop a new capacity to love that encompasses the whole world.
Pope Francis has done quite a lot to heal the divides in the Catholic church and welcome many people back to God’s table. Earlier this year, he talked about the possibility of women becoming deacons in the church. This fomented a hope that one day, perhaps even under his leadership, the centuries old refusal to allow women into the priesthood would come to an end, and women would be invited into full leadership of Catholic religious life. Nope.
Founded in 1922 in Dornach, Switzerland under the guidance of Rudolf Steiner (a spiritual teacher and the founder of Anthroposophy), one of the stipulations was a fully inclusive, consecrated priesthood–men and women serving equally as priests. Another was the return to the celebration of all seven sacraments (which was also radical in a Lutheran cultural context.) Women were to take the pulpit and the altar with no separate guidelines than their male counterparts. Priests of both genders (today, we are expanding to include also those identifying as non-binary) were empowered to serve also from their own higher conscience, that is, without the authority of pope or bishop.
I am a member of this priesthood, and I welcome you to check out our seminary. Perhaps you are called to be a shepherd of souls, and a servant at God’s altar?
In our time, we are asked to face evil more consciously than ever before. It is more than overwhelming; this is a task we are only at the beginning stages of being able to meet.
If we live into the numerous manifestations of evil in the daily news, we can lose ourselves in the number of events in which human beings act reprehensibly towards one another and the earth, and the horrible variety therein. To enter into these pictures unprotected, we might become overcome by fear and the feeling of powerlessness the face of it all.
Another alternative is to turn away from it, to lose ourselves in the distractions of the happy life, to be like the bird that sinks its head into the sand in order to hide from the world. We can do this in many ways—be they earthly or spiritual distractions.
There is also a middle path—to enter into the world with attention but also to pay attention to myself; to notice when I am feeling powerless and to seek a way, before taking anything else in, of creating some agency in the face of whatever is overwhelming me. I can always do something. What can I do right now to bring some light, some truth, some understanding, some compassion, some kindness into the world, in response to an expression of evil which I may not be able to directly change? It is important, more than anything else, to find one’s own sovereignty in the face of those beings who would disempower and enslave the human being through overwhelm, fear, or hatred. We can do this in the smallest of steps. There is always something that can be done that brings some good into the world, and this act makes me stronger. Even the smallest act can have a great effect in the soul, building up strength to take on ever greater things.
The Act of Consecration of Man is celebrated for this reason, to be enacted as a deed which makes us stronger and more human and more ourselves in the face of evil. It is a most powerful act of uniting ourselves with the forces of the Good:
The Archangel Michael, who has battled against the adversarial powers for a very long time, now recognizes a new power in the human being. He steps forward, and makes a gesture which can be called a decisively Christian gesture. To the human being he makes the gesture of beckoning us to follow him. This delicate gesture recognizes our integrity and the necessity for us to act in freedom when we follow him. The adversarial powers wish to overwhelm us so that we are not free but enslaved to them. Michael wishes for us to find a connection with the true source of our strength and becoming: the Mystery of Golgotha. This mystery is open to us. We can ponder it, we can enter into it in contemplation, we can feel its pictures, aiming to understand for ourselves most personally how a God came to earth to become human like us, gave of himself completely to us, united himself with our future becoming and the becoming of the earth.
It is our task to be here with him, and to be ever more present here. We are to christianize the earth with him, to make it a home for the spirit, for freedom, for truth, for compassion, conscience and ultimately for love. To walk with Christ is to practice walking the middle way.
Luke 15 1 Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Jesus to listen to Him. 2 Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” 3 So He told them this parable, saying, 4 “Who among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ 7 I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
8 “Or what woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9 When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost!’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
11 And He said, “A man had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.’ So he divided his wealth between them. 13 And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with reckless living. 14 Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. 16 And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the husks that the pigs were eating, but no one was giving anything to him. 17 But then he came to himself, and said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.”’ 20 So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; 23 and bring the fatted calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate.
25 “Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things could be. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28 But the older son became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him. 29 But he answered and said to his father, ‘Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends; 30 but when this son of yours came, who has squandered your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him.’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.’” (NASB)
We lose all kinds of things in life: valuable things—important moments and opportunities—cherished people—even ourselves. Sometimes whole peoples are lost in the forward tumult of the world.
We live in a time when a new consciousness is breaking through that we can no longer turn from if we are in anyway connected to the world. We must wake up to a new global awareness of our fellow human beings.
The current events in our country and the world are waking us up to many questions all at once—questions that do not yet have their answers. We can feel quite lost in the swells of the political battles and the current election scene, in the rising awareness that for some reason our brothers and sisters of color are treated vastly differently in this country, and we can no longer ignore the grave disparity that shapes peoples’ lives when they live below the poverty line.
Humanity is in the throes; those who have are scrambling to keep it at any cost, those who have not are struggling day to day to keep there heads above water and their hearts and bodies alive.
Never has there been such a potential in humankind to wake up, and be part of the world’s forward evolution. But so many are lost or intentionally left out of the conversation. Black people, jewish people, muslim people, gay people, trans people, disabled people, poor people. The list goes on of those systemically left behind or even outright abused in the name of some lopsided idea of progress, just unchecked fear.
There are movements that have long been stirring to remedy this situation, to help those who have been lost and left out to get back onto the great human life raft—that we can truly be in tis together. One of those movements began to visibly work into human history in the sixties, through the work of the Civil Rights Movement. But Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. saw even further when he saw the great connectedness between racism, and the military industrial complex, and the oppression of people through poverty. Some of his colleagues in the movement wanted him to stop at getting the laws changed for people of color—not to risk losing the ear of the president by choosing battles which might not be yet winnable. But he said: no, we have to keep going. We have to liberate people also from the chains of poverty, and help them wake up to power and become an agent of change on all levels of life. It was then that he truly became dangerous because he wanted to create a new world of radical inclusiveness, wherein EVERY life truly matters.
We have a great gift in the renewed sacraments given to the world as the endowment of the Movement for Religious Renewal. I think we don’t yet understand ourselves to be a movement—and struggle against the temptation of being happy with what we have and how far we have come. We have not yet fully grasped our mission: to remain in movement, and in movement for the world.
What are we in this movement to be renewing but the basic dignity and worth of every human being? We are gathered here at the altar not just to feel strengthened for our own personal struggles—that too—but further to work at helping others who are lost to get found, to come to themselves, whatever that might mean for them.
In the Gospel, Jesus gives us a description of the work of those who will follow him. He imagines for us a radical and active inclusivity. The shepherd who loses one sheep out of 100—well, any one of us could say: hey, 99 is still pretty good! But no! He leaves those 99 in the pasture grazing, and goes out looking for the one lost sheep.
The woman who loses her one coin—we have lost that one coin many times over—she turns the WHOLE house upside down to find it.
And the father whose son is lost—well, he still has one who runs the farm, but there is no joy like his when that lost son returns from the world, even his humbled state. He welcomes him like we would all like to feel welcomed at God’s table and in our human community.
We might have gotten comfortable thinking that we in The Christian Community do not need to get on board the social movements of our times—that our Christianity is one that helps people get liberated the slow way—that peoples’ karma will lead them here when it is time to a,liturgy that is so deeply healing. But perhaps instead we are not to wait—but to be the shepherd who goes out looking for the lost sheep—not to convert them to our pasture but to ask them what they need to eat.
Perhaps we are to work harder to turn our house upside down to find that lost coin.
Perhaps we are to BE the father—or the brother or the sister who welcomes anyone who is lost home with open arms. Perhaps God needs this of us, those who stand and work on the earth—to be his arms, his open heart, his grace in action.
The event at Pentecost is the happening that begins Christianity. It is our shortest festival because in fact, it happened in the blink of an eye. We celebrate it over three days to fully unfold this special moment when something changed in those human beings who had walked with Christ, learned from him, felt him as part of themselves. They did all this as if in a dream. But at the moment of the fiftieth day, Pentecost, which has long been a festival of harvest for the Jewish people, suddenly they woke up, they caught fire and were now able to awaken to the true gifts they had received from the Risen One. The harvest of this festival is the rising up of the individual flame in each one!
Why flame? The picture of this moment when the Holy Spirit comes to them is pictured in flames above their heads. This is a picture for what we say when we make the third of the three crosses…we say: the Spirit God enlighten us. Flame enlightens. The light that comes from a single flame is remarkable. A single candle can light an entire room!
Flames also bring heat—intense heat that transforms all earthly material. We hear of this fire in the gospels in the many words of Christ telling us that all branches that no longer bear fruit—that carry no more future in them—shall be gathered up and burned. Are they gone? They are transformed! The forces of growth that were poured into them is returned and strengthened in the remaining branches which might bear fruit. It is a kind of focusing of creative power.
So also when we are enflamed for something, when we burn for something. Fire is also a property of soul. Our hearts can burn, and even our whole being can burn for something. We call this fire LOVE. Love focuses us, shows us what is most important. Where we love, we live fully. Where we love, we heal and transform.
Rudolf Steiner, who dedicated his life and work to the liberation of the human spirit, wrote from his deathbed a kind of last will and testament, saying:
I want with cosmic spirit to enthuse each human being that a flame they may become and fiery will unfold the essence of their being. The other ones, they strive to take from cosmic waters what will extinguish flames and pour paralysis into all inner being. O joy, when the human being’s flame is blazing, even when at rest. O bitter pain, when the human thing is put in bonds, when it wants to stir.
Jesus Christ speaks of the transformation that fire brings when he says in Luke’s Gospel: I came to throw fire upon the earth; how I wish it were already kindled!
The human being is not meant to remain well-behaved and cool. We kindle these flames at the altar in offering that we may call the Holy Spirit down to earth, into our very being, to awaken in the light and be enflamed by the fire of the spirit. We seek to birth the fire of love, which is creative of being, being that carries the seed of the eternal in it. Filled with the Spirit of God, we are to become healing spirits for the earth and all creation.
Today we get to celebrate the Ascension of Christ and Mother’s Day together. A coincidence and yet also not without significance! Mother’s Day is a bit of an arbitrarily generated holiday, but the fact that we all owe our lives to our mothers is not! Recognition of those to whom we owe our birth, our existence, and our becoming can make a holy-day out of any day.
We owe our earthly existence to both mother and father (at least biologically), two parents who bring us into the world through their sacrifice. But it is our mother who welcomes us into her own being and encompasses us even bodily, helps us to identify ourselves with the body that is being made for us in the highest deed of wisdom. It is our mother who nourishes us from inside herself and feels every struggle that we feel as her own while we are in her womb.
In the act of our birth into the world, our mother gives us, through her own pain and suffering, our own independent existence. The best gift we can give in return is to make something of this gift! And to recognize with gratitude the immensity of this offering our mothers have made to our becoming. So to all the mothers out there: thank you!
Christ in his Ascension is also like a mother. Humanity stood at a crossroads oh so long ago; our future ability to incarnate into a body that would allow us to reach our full potential was in jeopardy. He came to the earth to become our helper—not to lead us from without for all eternity, our God-King manifest, but to help us become new human beings, able to reclaim our birthright—those created in the image of God. So that we could be born completely new, he went through death to the resurrection–and after the resurrection, offered up his newly resurrected body to make room for our becoming.
In the Ascension, he takes his offering to a completely new level, and makes of himself a womb for the birth of the new human being. He spreads himself out to encompass heaven and earth, uniting himself completely with us. But like a fetus in the womb, we are almost completely unaware of the being which enfolds us, nourishes us, and calls us forth into a new day. He gives himself freely to all human beings on earth, that we might each awaken in the spirit.
His Ascension is ripening to us gradually. There is a sense deep in the human soul today that something new is possible—that there is more than the world we yet know how to create and inhabit. The human being is restless to be born into our new divine consciousness. The Risen One goes before us—as it says in the Easter epistle: the comforter of our earth existence—and gives to us the possibility that our joy may be made full and complete.
The Act of Consecration describes this in the transubstantiation when Christ tells us: through his deed, Godhead is given again to the human being. We are blessed with a gift that is an invitation to a new life. He bears us into the heavenly, makes himself into a womb for our spiritual becoming, that the heavenly or divine nature of the human being can be born anew in consciousness.
The Risen One goes ahead of us as the whole human being, no longer divided but reunited: mother and father, masculine and feminine, heavenly and earthly, eternal and temporal. The earth is our sacred home for the work of becoming human. He embodies the earth with his spirit, and reunites it with its heavenly purpose and being. May we too ascend and become all we are meant to become!
Mosaic of the Resurrected Christ, Resurrection Chapel at the Washington DC Cathedral
The abundance and the life of the Spirit is being poured out all the time, but in order to receive it, we need a vessel to raise up. At Easter, the empty space in the center of our being which has burned in longing is allowed now to become a cup, and to be filled anew.
All week, we have been on a search together for the Holy Grail—the mythical cup which brings living spiritual nourishment to the human being bound to the struggle of life on earth. The Holy Week revealed this cup in the most intimate aspects of the human being as a spirit wrestling within the limitations of bodily life, and we asked: how can we offer? How can we receive? Who can drink from this cup and receive the healing medicine?
The question in this hour at the altar when we aim to consecrate the human being becomes: can we worthily fulfill the chalice-making of the human being—individually and together? Can we become the Grail itself—each in our own expression?
The boldness of Easter is that we are allowed to stand at the altar and raise ourselves into the form of a chalice, before we are fully that Grail. We step into the gesture that He gives us—on the cross and in his deed of entering death and bringing nourishment through his overcoming death, through the resurrection. We celebrate this great act and pray it into our own being.
Whatever we have suffered or are suffering still, it can become part of this holy cup. We do not have to wait until our suffering is done. We do not have to wait until we have been made whole. Our longing to be healed and to love brings us into relationship—with each other and with the divine. It warms our hearts and gives us the fire to seek courageously to be reconciled to the holy ones who call us to meet together here.
To not dare would be like waiting to receive the baptism until one is perfected. But we baptize the children. The newly born who have yet even to begin, and who have a full life of learning and struggle and becoming ahead of them. And we confirm those who are only beginning to battle for the life of their souls, not at the end when all that is extreme is overcome. To come to stand at the altar is for those who are willing to enter life most fully.
We receive the blessing of being God’s children because we need God and God needs us. The whole of Creation, according to Paul, sighs in expectation that we become Sons and Daughters of Light. The whole of the cosmos is waiting for us to come of age.
To make the resurrection ever more real in the unfolding of human evolution, requires some human beings who are willing to come forward and say: Yes, I will practice raising myself up—all my faults, all my sorrows, all my weaknesses—along with all my hopes and all my gifts.
So we become a community gathered around the chalice: offering from the heart and the mind and the will the best we can muster in each moment. And what shall we receive?
We were made to make meaning of our lives but also to find it.
We were made to give love and also to receive it.
We were made to bring joy to this darkened earth, and also to feel joy in the depths of our own being.
For all this, do we raise our cup, the Holy Grail, together.
He has been laid in the grave. And the world is hushed. In grief, in silence, in an utter loss of words to name the experience that the Lord has died.
So it is when we lose someone close to us. There are no words and we stand as novices before the threshold of death in awe of its totality, its complete transformation of our reality. We struggle to come to grips with the fact: he is gone. She is never going to get up again. We will never be able to meet again like we did.
The noisy human being who always has something to say is finally silenced. We stand before the grave and there is nothing happening.
Yet we may also sense that the silence is pregnant, that we stand outside of an inner space in which worlds are contained. Death flips the world inside out. It makes us aware that our clamor and clatter here on earth is so much noise, and that inside the world, or just beyond it, a powerful life is unfolding in delicate tones and movements which our unrefined eyes cannot see, our coarse ears cannot hear.
We stand before the grave and wonder, “Where has he gone? What is he doing now?”
Christ’s entry into the realm of death is a mystery to us. There are reports in non-canonical gospels of a great light appearing to those fettered in the world between worlds, liberating the human being who could no longer, at that time, “properly die nor properly live”; those who we speak of in our creed: “those who had lost their divine nature.” For these souls in the underworld, according to the reports, the rising sun of Easter arrives first, in this inner space away from our perception.
Our way into the mystery is perhaps to remain standing at the grave. To allow its darkness to cleanse us. To pray into the not seeing and the not hearing and the not knowing. Who is in there?
We have a chalice in our hands, grief has made it clear for us, we long to offer all that we are and to be filled with all that we are not.
The spiritual world is not a big empty space, but is alive with being. Those who have died, angels and archangels, and all the hierarchies of God’s divine being. We long to know them, to be part of their flowing life.
And so we stand at the threshold and pray: We want to be healed that we may look up again and see.