“And Mary gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” – Luke 2:7
Were you ever lost in your life? In traffic, travel, or even in woods?
When I was a young boy around twelve years old, I got lost in the woods on one of our farms. It was late winter but the snow was still deep and my father was making maple syrup. He had a “Maple Sugar Shack” in the woods surrounded by old large maple trees. It was late February and I was with him. He was going to keep boiling the sap through the evening into the night. I told him I was going to walk the mile or so back out of the woods, across the meadows to our home for supper. Still early I decided to take a different route to perhaps spot a deer or two. Maybe escape the chores too. Not realizing darkness would settle in early or new snowfall had covered earlier tracks, I found myself lost. At first I felt confident I could find my way out of familiar woods but soon realized I had made a big circle returning to where I had earlier passed! I felt some panic. It was dark, and surrounded by huge tree shadows, I wasn’t certain where I was. I kept walking, listening for sounds, perhaps distant traffic. For what seemed hours, I finally came to a fence and followed it along until I spotted a light in a far away house. Walking toward the light brought me to the highway which led back to our house, another mile or so east. When I arrived, mother assumed I had stayed in the woods with Dad. I can’t tell you how relieved I felt!
When I read or hear of the story of Mary giving birth to Jesus, I think of being lost in dark woods.
The other night I asked the session members at South Park Presbyterian Church what the story of the Virgin Mary meant to them. Silence. Finally someone said, “The virgin birth of baby Jesus, the Savior of the world.” I asked if they felt it was a literal story. Some said, “Partly so, partly not.”
When I first went to church I was taught Jesus had to be born of a Virgin because he was the perfect Son of God who had to die for my sins by shedding his blood. Apparently being conceived with the sinfulness of sex was too much to be a Savior. Later when I got to the Presbyterian Seminary in Pittsburgh, I discovered most teachers did not believe in the Virgin Birth, saying it wasn’t really necessary and the writers had misunderstood the ancient Hebrew text from Isaiah 7:14.
After retiring I discovered this story of a Virgin giving birth to a Savior of the world as much older than the one in the Bible. It was common in several cultures around the Eastern Mediterranean, some dating back nearly 20,000 years. They all had common elements in the story, very similar to the one we have know. How did they interpret it?
Mary represents us all who have come into the darkness of the earth journey. She represents what some call the “universal fall” of humanity from its Oneness with God the Creator. As Mary, we come into the darkness of the world, symbolized by the season of darkness surrounding the winter solstice. All these stories occurred around December 25, the darkest day of the year.
Arriving here, we soon discover we are lost, lost in the “dark woods of life on earth.” Death surrounds us, conflicts bound, hatred so often rules and religions fight over beliefs and traditions. People fall in love with others which often devolves quickly into delusion and disappointment; beautiful children are born to die, earthquakes, floods, and drought kill millions while countries battle for resources and markets. And at times, the woods feel so dark and cold and scary.
Yet amid the darkness, we remember a place where we once existed in the Light of Love. We can choose to follow this instinct and in so doing, give birth to hope and joy. This choice is the Virgin Birth of Jesus, the Son of God. It is a choice we make on our own to turn inward to where this Presence still resides and always was. It is a choice made not by parents, or religions, or national allegiances but by our minds choosing to listen and follow.
Jesus, the very name means “Savior”, is what this inward Presence has been called for so many centuries by so many people. It’s a name symbolizing the very Essence, the very Presence of Hope and Eternal Life within. It is a name symbolizing Spirit, not mortal body; Reality, not unreality; That Which always is rather than that which never was.
Here in the darkness we are Prodigal Sons who left our Father’s house, going into a new dimension of another world. We thought we were finally free, but like the freshmen in college, discover we are not free but surrounded by more doubts and fears than ever known at Parent’s house! Finally, desperate, down and out, we awaken, make a choice to return to our Father’s House, willing to do anything to be found worthy. But when we turn back toward Home we find total forgiveness and acceptance! This decision is ours alone, our Virgin “I-ness,” the great Decider in our minds to choose differently.
Like Mary we can choose to receive it. Not by merit of any kind but totally by Grace. It’s the feminine aspect of choice, receiving. To live within this grace, we use our masculine choice powers to choose; listen, wait, hear and ponder. Mary the mother who chooses then recedes as in the stories of the gospels. She represents the ephemeral ego, the small I. The Son of God, our True I, increases, even discarding his mother along the way.
Mary represents our Ego, our small “I” whereas Jesus is our True Self, the large “I”, our true Identity as the Sons of God. As many as receive him, the Spirit gives the “power to become the very Sons of God….” (John 1:12) He must increase, I must decrease.
The Virgin Birth of Mary: the awakening of ourselves to the Christ within. Don’t miss it at Christmas amid busyness, parties, laughter, drinking and eating! If so you have missed the very Light and the Reason for the Season.
Prepare Him room each day. It is an offer to all; lowly shepherds, Galileans, lepers, prisoners, capitalists, communists, Muslim and Christian, Republicans, Tea Partiers, Democrats and Independents along with Occupiers who are just plain fed up!
So if you are still finding yourself wandering in circles, lost in a cold dark woods, follow the fence of your intuition. Come to the Light shining seen in the distance. Get on the road back Home where you will be welcomed with love and open arms!
Talk presented December 18, 2011 to the 1st Presbyterian Church of West Seneca, NY, 2085 Union Road, West Seneca, NY. Comments and questions are always welcome.
Rev. Dr. David G. Persons, Weekend Pastor/Worship Leader