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As we close the Christmas cycle with the ending of Epiphany, I share this reflection on the meaning of the Christmas event.

Individuals who are familiar with the language of the Gospels may hear the words as information which they already know. However, the Scriptural messages are designed to bring God’s presence to us in our context. When we allow ourselves to be moved beyond the familiar words, we may discover new levels of spirituality.

At Christmas we celebrated ‘God taking on flesh’ (incarnation). As the writers of the Gospels attempted to express the Godlike life of Jesus, they used the language of Greek Mythology which was part of the culture of their time. Great men or women were spoken of as being the result of a sexual relationship between one of gods and a human. They were divine/human being. We keep repeating this image about Jesus but we need to go beyond it and ask, “Is there a new way to understand the life of Jesus in our culture and our time?”

Because the Gospel writers were trying to emphasize the divinity of Jesus, I would imagine that the healings and miracles they recorded about Jesus were made more dramatic than they actually were. Whatever happened, it seems that Jesus’ contact with people — the outcasts, sick, selfish, guilty — radiated divine love and compassion to such a degree that they experienced the divine in Jesus and felt it in themselves. Jesus’ ministry revealed the divine which was already present in all of creation.

This is where I find the message for our time. Jesus reveals that the divine spirit is present in all human beings. This is not a new idea in the Bible. In the very first chapters of the Bible, in Genesis 1-3, we have the creation stories

God ‘speaks’ and creation happens. There is the sun and moon, the plants of the earth, fish and animals, and always the comment, “It was very good.” Notice the relationship: The authors described all of creation as an expression of God. What a message for a culture that has raped the earth and destroyed much of its natural life cycle.

And there is more. God creates humans in his own image. In the biblical language, humans are also an expression of God. The mission of Jesus was to bring the Reign of God to earth -- to restore life to be more like the idyllic life described in the Garden of Eden in Genesis.

What a beautiful message! God’s presence is not limited to church sanctuaries. We see reflections of God in human beings — even in those we don’t really like that well. We experience God in the wonders of nature: mountains, streams, plants, trees, fish, animals, etc. We experience God in the gift of life to each of us. Our lives have value as we journey together in a wonderful world.

Why have we lost our way from this wonderful life and its challenges? I think one answer is religion’s emphasis on sin. We have been so consumed by sin that we have lost sight of the blessings all around us. Even though the church has been consumed by emphasizing our helplessness because of sin, we have been told it really doesn’t matter that much because if you believe in Jesus he forgives you. As a result there is no motivation for change. Jesus’ call for a new way for living is largely ignored.

Let’s move our focus from sin to the grace of God and to the divine presence all around us. This change of focus will open our lives to the joy and mystery of experiencing the divine. Surrounded by an awareness of the divine we will be empowered to live the love in caring for one another and healing the earth. We can do better.

Edgar Zelle is a retired Lutheran pastor living in Waverly.

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