Monday, 21 November 2011

Who is your Immanuel? Who is your “God is with us"?

Immanuel means "God is with us"
Who is your Immanuel? Who is your “God is with us”, the one you were promised, the one you have been waiting for?

For the ancient prophet Isaiah, he was a boy soon to be born who would guide the people of Judah back to peace and harmony with God. He would bring hope for victory and greatness in the tribe. He would be a gift from God to his chosen people.

Who is your Immanuel, your “God is with us”?

For Christians, he is Jesus of Nazareth. The baby in the Christmas story who grew to be a remarkable teacher among the Jewish people; whose ideas about love, forgiveness, and justice changed the world forever.

Who is your Immanuel, your “God is with us”?

Perhaps your Immanuel is a political leader, standing for the rights of the oppressed—a Martin Luther King or a Gandhi. Perhaps in their work with people you feel God is with us.

Who is your Immanuel, your “God is with us”?

Perhaps your Immanuel is an artist, bringing transcendence to the human spirit and lifting our hopes and dreams into the light—a J.S. Bach, a Picasso, a William Shakespeare. Perhaps in the presence of great beauty and creativity you feel God is with us.

Who is your Immanuel, your “God is with us”?

Perhaps it is a child. Created from our bodies, the child who is filled with the potential to do every great thing. Your promise from God that the world has hope for justice and beauty. For in the presence of a child we too can feel that God is with us all.

Who is your Immanuel, your “God is with us”?
Slightly adapted from words by Sarah Movius Schurr 

We are about to enter the season of Advent, beginning this Sunday 27th November. It got me thinking about the following words spoken in the 19th century by James Martineau

The incarnation is true not of Christ exclusively but of Man universally and God everlastingly. He bends into the human to dwell there and humanity is the susceptible organ of the divine.

This distinctly Unitarian view of the Incarnation speaks powerfully to me. Unitarians have tended to see Jesus as a man worthy of following, rather than as the unique manifestation of the Divine. Cliff Reed hits the mark perfectly when he states.

While Jesus was, like all people, a unique individual, he was not other than human. He was our brother in every sense, sharing the same human lineage as us. And thus when we speak of him as a child of god, as incarnate divinity, as vessel of god's promise to humankind, we speak of him as embodiment, as symbol of what is true of every human baby.

The ministry of Jesus, and those who have walked the same path, was indeed an enfleshment of creative power, supremely that of love, which can re-make human beings by revealing to them their roots in a divine creation, their reclaimable goodness and wholeness, their oneness with the glorious universe.
Cliff Reed

The classic Unitarian position has always been that Jesus was and still is a man worthy of following but not of worshipping as the one and only incarnation of the Divine.

The theologian John Hick argues that Jesus did not know that he was himself God incarnate; that the idea of the incarnation ought to be seen as a powerful metaphorical image; that Jesus ought to only be viewed as the embodiment of God because God's love was manifested through his life. He was not literally God's son though in the sense that he was not the creation of a miraculous birth fathered by God in the Holy Spirit. He highlights that the phrase "son of God" was a common Hebrew metaphor and was given to those who exhibited Godly attributes on earth. Therefore it is not surprising that someone who was considered as righteous as Jesus would have been given this title, although it was not meant in a literal sense.

According to Hick, metaphorically speaking, Jesus incarnated God in three ways. The first being that he was living out God's will, therefore God was living through him in this world; the second being that by living out God's will he was displaying the perfect example of how a human being ought to live and was therefore incarnating God; thirdly in the way that his life was perfect agape, it was purely self giving love. In other words Jesus' finite life reflected perfectly God's infinite love, but he was not literally God in the flesh.

Experience has revealed to me that all life can be an extension of this Divine Love. More and more I see the incarnation manifested in all existence.

Process theology and the concept of the ‘lure’ of divine love has suggested this idea for quite some time. Jesus is the word made flesh in that within his life the divine action manifested itself completely. Christ is the expression of the word, within him is the genuine union of divine activity and human activity. He did not literally come down from heaven, this is pure metaphor. To quote  Norman Pittenger Jesus, “...was never a god; he was always regarded as the manifestation in act of the one and only God.” This would suggest that what occurred in Jesus could occur in all human life.

The former Dominican priest Matthew Fox appears to develop this idea further in what he describes as the "Cosmic Christ". He claims that through the Cosmic Christ is the “I am” in every creature, therefore that all life can become the incarnation. He believes that the purpose of the incarnation in Jesus is to reveal the immanence of the Cosmic Christ and that as we grow into who we really are and as our compassion is developed the divine “I am” takes flesh once more. As Fox states “We grow into compassion and in doing so the divine “I am” takes on flesh once again. Since god alone is the compassionate One, as we grow into compassion we also grow into our own divinity.”

So we humans and all life are potentially expressions of the divine and if we express that divine quality within ourselves we can then hopefully inspire others to do likewise

In recent years I believe that I have witnessed and dare I say experienced what I call Divine love. I experienced it the first day I walked into Cross Street Chapel Manchester and was greeted by Peter Sampson. I know it sounds like nothing, but it felt very special. I experienced as I connected to that short lunchtime service led by John Midgley. This feeling, dare I say experience, developed over the next few months as I became part of the community there. This grew as I listened and worship and shared and most of all sung. I fell in love with singing once again there. Every time I sing I experience life in a way I don't during anything else that I do. I always liked to sing, but I experience it differently today.

I first knew this magical mystical feeling when I experienced pure human love manifested in a unique life. I experienced it through knowing Claire and Ethan. Ethan, especially Ethan, showed me that loves is real and exists in every human heart. By just being a part of his short life I began to see that I had once been like him. I saw in him what exists in every human child and all life. I began to experience what Matthew Fox has described as the Cosmic Christ. “That that connects all life.”

Reverend David Doel captures what I mean perfectly when he states that, “The Christ Child stands for the Hope of the World and represents the great miracle of human birth. In every child God comes down to earth. In every child the 'promise' of God is repeated. Every mother is Mary the mother of God and every child is nurtured by the Holy Spirit - that mysterious, creative and healing essence we call Life. The Christ Child is the symbol of our human potentiality; like the oak in the acorn."

The tragedy of my life was that I lost sight of this. Somehow, over the years, I became disconnected from life and became addicted to alcohol and fear and virtually lost my humanity. What I was able to finally, see, accept and connect to in my own life was "That Great reality deep down within every man woman and child." That the book Alcoholics Anonymous describes.

I again experienced that incredible manifestation of divine love on the day, the weeks and months that followed November the 2nd 2006, All Souls Day, the day that Ethan was killed. I will never forget the way that people came together within the community to hold the family and I will always remember how the people in my own community held and supported me. Not that what all these wonderful people did for me would have been enough if that Great reality, that I had rediscovered, had not already begun to flower. The old me would not, could not have survived that tragedy.

I am a great believer in miracles I see them all the time in my everyday interactions with everyday people. I have learnt to appreciate and value every interaction and every moment of existence. Every breath is a Divine gift, if I am only able to see it that way. Every single human being has the capacity for great things, if they would only get in touch with that great reality deep down within themselves. That said we are all also capable of great destruction and evil, every single one of us. It is as important that we remember that too.

None of this is cast in stone though; I simply cannot believe that. I am NOT convinced that anything is pre-destined and pre-determined. I believe that life and existence is truly open and that all human beings are responsible for their own lives and this spinning planet that we all share. The very characteristic of the universe is one of process and change and the agent of this has to be free will. The Divine mystery does not control everything instead what it offers us is the persuasive lure of love, if we could only see that.

All we need to do is to tap into that great reality deep down within us as so many wonderful human examples have done over the years. If we can't see this within ourselves then hopefully we can see it within other human lives or nature itself and be inspired by the beauty of creation, always remembering that we are all made of the same stuff.

If life has taught me anything it is that in order to live to our full potential we humans need to be connected to that that is buried deep within us and that that is circling all around us. To live successfully and happily in this world all we have to do is to first of all find and then maintain that connection and to simply live our lives.

We don’t need to build boundaries to survive, I say pull them all down. We don’t need to work and develop our self esteem, because we already have it in bucket loads. We just have to live honestly and truthfully and that natural self esteem that we are made of will just shine out of us. Hopefully by doing so we will shine some light onto the lives of others and they will be inspired to do likewise. If we do human life is bound to improve for all.

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