Choose to Be the Light

Choose to Be the Light

December 25, 2012
Stina Pope

What is a myth? A myth is a type of story that is meant to convey certain truths, not factual evidence. The Christmas story is a wonderful myth – but it is not magical. Like any great myth it tells a story that is both full of wonder and conveys certain truths which may shape our lives and world view, truths that are understood as more important than mere facts.  And the most important fact for us to remember is that we live by myths. (from John Bennison) We live by myths, not facts, as much as that is difficult for our 21st century minds to wrap around, our lives and our world view is shaped by myth.

Let’s unpack this a little. Did I just say that the Christmas story is a myth? Well, yes, I did. It is clear that the stories about the birth of Jesus were written very late, along with a bunch of other interesting stories about Jesus’ life which did not get into our Bible, but which you can find easily enough if you want to! Does that mean that they are not true? Not at all! However, there are different kinds of truths. When we say that the stories about the birth of Jesus – we call those the “infancy narratives” – when we say they are myth, what we mean is that we know that they are not factually true. That does not mean that they are not true in other ways. The power of a myth is that it is true, but not as historical fact. The historicity or factualness of a myth is irrelevant.

Our story this evening is a good case in point. It is December. It is cold and nasty outside. This is not when shepherds take sheep out to graze on the hillsides! They might take them out during the day, but it will not be until spring when the sheep are taken out further from the villages, and when the shepherds stay out on the hillsides with them. So the idea of the angels coming to the shepherds keeping watch over their sheep by night? Not in December! So OK, you say, so they got the date wrong, but the rest of it? It’s myth, not factual.

We do not throw the baby out with the bathwater here. We say that yes, the infancy narratives are myth, and that they are powerful. We do not say that they are “just” myth, as though that were lower class, because the other fact to remember is that we live by myths. So, the next important question for us is to ask by which myths do we choose to live our lives?
What kinds of truths are being told to us in the Christmas story? First of all, we have to go back to the real story, not the Hallmark version. What we know is that there was a rather brutal occupation going on. The crucifixion of Jesus was just one of hundreds. The occupation that was going on when Jesus was killed by the state was the same one that was there 30 years before when he was born. It was a time of “darkness” in the land. We have a small sense of that darkness this year. The truth that we hear in the Christmas story is that light has come.
Back to our mythical shepherds. When we say something is myth, we tend to discount it, right? But the shepherds really are very important. They have an amazing truth for us. The story tells us that the angels came to the shepherds. We have so idolized these shepherds that we fail to see the painful reality. Shepherds in that day were like street people in our time. They were considered failures in life, unclean, outcasts. And the angels came to them. What a radical concept.
When we are dealing with a powerful myth, the question is not: “but did it really happen?” The question is: “what does it mean?”
Here is what it means to me. There are always many meanings to a myth, so you may hear some different meanings, and that is just fine and totally appropriate. What it means to me is that in the midst of painful and difficult times, when people are being killed and other people are dying of dread diseases and people are starving and children are not safe, in the midst of all of this, the light comes. And it does not just show up in the beautiful palaces, it comes even to us, and not just to us, but to the parts of us that we hide in shame and fear. The light comes.
They say that under ideal conditions in the flattest part of North Dakota, on a starless, moonless night, with no breath of wind, someone could light a candle and walk for 17 miles, and for 17 miles, the light would still be seen. That’s a long ways for one candle to overcome the darkness.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” We will read more of this next Sunday.
When children are afraid of the dark, we don’t turn off the dark, we turn on the light. Much of what discourages me is that I and most in our country are focused on trying to turn off the dark. The truth of Christmas is that there is light. We cannot turn off the dark. The truth of Christmas is that the light can overcome the darkness. A small baby born under sad circumstances in the backwaters of the Roman empire became the light that had one person write, “these followers of the Way have turned the known world upside down with their teachings.” And the fundamental teaching was to love one another as their master had loved them. An amazing candle of light in the darkness.
Rob Voyle suggests that violence in any form is an example of communal, moral failure and should be a time for communal sorrow and repentance for all involved. Why should we be surprised when one person takes a gun, invades a school, and kills 20 children and 6 adults when we as a nation invaded a country and killed hundreds of thousands of children and adults? Both were wrong. We are all part of the problem and we all need to be part of the solution.
I remember walking through an airport weeks after 9/11. Everywhere you looked was a uniformed Guardsmen with an assault weapon. Their presence did not make me feel safer. I had a feeling of profound sadness and awareness that I don’t want to live like this where everyone is armed to the teeth. When I was in Israel, it was like this, military personnel armed with assault weapons all over the place, and we are seeing now what that leads to.
Don’t get me wrong. I am grateful for our military who are willing to make sacrifices that I am not prepared to make. I just have a huge problem with the way we as nation use our military.
Adding more darkness to a dark world isn’t the solution, we need to turn on the light! The light that the darkness has not overcome.
We get this profound choice in life: to live in fear or to live in love. From “our time in the garden” humanity has been afraid and living in darkness. Each appearance of God into our world begins with “do not be afraid” and is followed by a welcome into the light and then a call to manifest that light in some way in the world. We owe this to our children, and to our children’s children, to grow into the light as adult children of God. As an adult child of God we get to make choices. Will we choose to live in love, refusing to use fear as a motivation, seeing the world through the eyes of love, staying in community with others who walk the path of love, and discovering how we can make that light burn brighter? What will you choose?
Finally, we are invited by Steve Bhaerman to become a “nomad.”

That’s where I no mad at you and you no mad at me.
A little peace here, a little peace there,
and pretty soon there be a big peace everywhere.

(with thanks to Rob Voyle for his reflections this week)

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