13.7 Billion Years, and God Isn’t Done: a Christmas homily
Readings: A Christmas Proclamation; Isaiah 57:14–15, 18b, 19 + 52: 7–9; Ps. 89; A Reading from the poem “The Birth of Christ” by Rainer Maria Rilke, and Matt 1:18–25 (Catholic Comprehensive Lectionary)
From the creation of the world to Jesus, 13.7 billion years. From Jesus to us, 2022 years. With numbers so large, we are barely a breath’s distance from Christ’s birth. The universe is still 13.7 billion years old.
And yet. How many stories! How many people! How many loves, losses, tragedies, wonders, and evolutions have we witnessed and lived deeply in our brief lifetimes? At a cosmic perspective, we are like whispers on the wind of Creation. Also, at a cosmic level, we are expressions of the divine — the spark of the Holy made flesh.
The sweeping story of our faith from Genesis to Jesus starts when God breathes life into clay and says to Wisdom, “Let us make a human in our image, in our likeness” (Gn 1:26, Alter). And God plants seeds on the face of the earth, fills the skies and seas and land with life, and says to the first earthling, “Look I have given you [everything];” “be fruitful and multiply… fill the earth, and hold sway” (1:29, 28). And the Giver-of-Life, Pourer-of-Self into Creation looked at all they had created and saw: it was good.
Oh, and it was! Miracles of life burst forth in cosmic wonder from the seas, evolving in beauty, ecological newness, and divine expression. And yet, in the earliest moments, the Creator saw something was missing. The work was not done! The earthling, made in the image of the creator, did not have anyone to share in the life of conscious creation with.
And so, the story continues. God creates human-flesh from earth-flesh, woman and man, and a lush playground for their infancy as divine co-creators — a garden, with “forbidden fruit” that will birth them from sheltered youth into adulthood when the time is right for them to become responsible for their own choices as well as the labor of cultivating food in a barren land, of reproducing, and building community.
God of the cosmos knows how precious and difficult it is to cultivate life (consider the vast universe and our one known full-of-life earth), and so (when they make the unadvised leap) God warns the young adults: this will not be easy. You bear the image of God, the soul of the Creator, the tools of co-creating life, and wisdom to know what is good and evil. Eternity in the garden-of-simplicity is lost. You are people of the earth now, dust to dust. From you, life on earth will evolve. And the man-of-the-earth looked at the woman who moved them forward in evolution and called her Eve, which means “the mother of all that lives” (2:21, Alter).
Myth collides with science in our Christmas proclamation. The Eve of human evolution, the first female from whom all human DNA can be traced, lived 160,000 years ago. The mother of humanity. Thanks be to God.
And the story continues! In the 42nd year of the Empire of Octavian Augustus, when an empire built on violence was “at peace,” Mary of Nazareth heard the voice of God. Like the young Eve, she makes a rule-breaking choice. God offers her a child, an infant begotten of the Cosmic Creator, flesh from flesh, God from God. And yet, through her radical “yes” to birth Jesus, she breaks the rules of social acceptance. Betrothed yet unwed, she risks rejection by Joseph and deadly social ostracism.
Mary looked at the world around her, and she knew. She knew the danger, and she knew the possibility. She knew the violence that lurked around the corner for Israelites subject to Roman oppression; the Romans brought roads and infrastructural advances, but they also brought rape, subjugation, and death to any who stood in the way of empire. She also knew the ways of her God.
So she sang, “My Soul Magnifies the Holy One, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior… for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is God’s name” (Lk 1:46-47, 49, Gafney).
She accepted the task of birthing a child of God and held fast with her own proclamation of safety: “God has shown the strength of God’s own arm; God has scattered the arrogant in the intent of their hearts. God has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; God has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty. God has helped God’s own child, Israel, a memorial to God’s mercy” (1:51–54, Gafney).
What do you think she believed about the risk of her “yes” to conceive? About what it meant to birth God’s own self? About the Emmanuel child who would come?
Traditional Catholic lore makes a villain of Eve and tames the mother Mary. And yet, both women birth life in partnership with God. Eve sees what is good, what is needed next — and she partakes. Mary does the same. They both birth an evolving life. Eve, the first humans. Mary, the Christ.
And — the story still isn’t over! The work of God is not done. Christ is not in the past, Christ is here among us. Each of us has a part to play in the Cosmic dance.
Including the parts of Adam and Joseph.
Adam looks upon the woman he shares life with, and his first reaction upon their expulsion from the garden is to witness her truth and name her: “Eve, for she is the mother of all that lives.” Adam sees and speaks truth.
And Joseph listens to his own dreams that, counter-to-culture, tell him to embrace Mary despite her premarital pregnancy. He heeds the word of God to trust her and companion her. Through this holy act, he stands between her and the patriarchy that would blame and shame her as an unwed mother. He elevates her safety and wellbeing, loving her and the new child who is not conceived by him — but his just the same.
Adam and Joseph are prophets whose feminist truths are obscured by patriarchy. Eve and Mary are co-creators of divine life. They accept risks, and in doing so, they change the world. Like them, we all have a part to play.
The question for us this Christmas Eve is: who are we?
Who will we be? What will we do? What will we see?
Emmanuel, God-with-us, is waiting.