Shuck and Jive

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Holy Within--A Christmas Eve Meditation

Here is the text of the Christmas Eve meditation delivered at FPC Elizabethton.

The Holy Within
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

Christmas Eve 2009
The Silent Shepherds
The Three Kings

Where do we go from here?
We left our country,
Bore gifts,

Followed a star.

We were questioned.

We answered.

We reached our objective.

We enjoyed the trip.

Then we came back by a different way.

And now the people are demonstrating in the streets.

They say they don't need the Kings any more.

They did very well in our absence.

Everything was all right without us.

They are out on the streets with placards:

Wise Men? What's wise about them?

There are plenty of Wise Men,

And who needs them? -and so on.

Perhaps they will be better off without us,

But where do we go from here?

Where do we go from here?” ask the befuddled wise men—the kings of renown.

I chose some odd poetry about shepherds, angels, and kings to contrast with the traditional scripture texts for fun in part. Also to show what a different world we live in from those who created and told these stories.

We don’t often run into shepherds, angels, and kings in our daily lives.

I don’t think I have ever met a shepherd. I knew people who ran sheep—sheep ranchers. But that is almost an agri-business. I don’t know shepherds who live in their fields. Doesn’t mean there aren’t any, I just don’t run into them in my daily rounds to the Wal-Mart.

I know I haven’t met any angels, except in the romantic sense. My lovely is, of course, an angel. But angels bounding about to and fro in and out of heaven proclaiming things in lights is not part of my experience.

I haven’t met any kings either. I was once a stone’s throw from President Bill Clinton when he visited Fort Drum in upstate New York. But I never thought of President Clinton as either a king or a wise man.

Shepherds, angels, wise men, virgins giving birth to sons of god….these characters are from an age long past. We haven’t lived in their world for a long time. We repeat this story year after year. What does it mean, if anything, today? How do we hear this story?

Where do we go from here?

A long time has passed since these marvelous legends were created. The universe has become larger. The Hubble telescope has shown us images of light of the Universe’s oldest galaxies, 13 billion years old.

The Earth has become smaller. To use a phrase by astronomer Carl Sagan, Earth is a pale blue dot in the suburbs of the Milky Way galaxy.

Time is longer. Earth is four billion years old. Modern humans are just 200,000 years old.

There is no more heaven up there. Earth is in heaven as we realized when we first glimpsed photographs of Earth from behind the moon on the Apollo spacecraft. There are no more gods or sons of gods coming down in human form.

Where do we go from here?

When something no longer becomes believable it becomes either superstition or poetry. Superstition for many is inevitable. We have to live with those who cling to superstitions and we hope that they will be harmless. And we hope that we will be harmless. In the meantime we must create poetry.

And there is something beautifully poetic about giving birth to the son of God. What better image could there be that gives permission to be creative? The creativity, imagination, and consciousness of the universe is born within us. We give birth to divinity. No species that we know of has achieved a consciousness as aware as that of human beings. We are the eyes and ears—the poets of the Universe.

The same material, the same dust, star-dust, that was present at the Big Bang is within us. And it has taken 13. 7 billion years give or take for the universe to tell stories about itself. We are the bards of the Universe.

Certainly it is possible that consciousness has arisen to our degree or past it somewhere in the Universe. We don’t know about it yet. But we are here. And it is a miracle. That is what our ancestors were trying to communicate through these Christmas stories. Life is a miracle! Don't miss it!

Of course they chose a baby as a sign. We have a new baby in our family. My new great-niece, Anjelica, is not quite nine weeks old. I met her for the first time today. I held her. What do I do when I see her? I approach her as if I am approaching a goddess. With care, with awe. My eyes get big. I look intently into her face. You can’t help it. That is what a baby does. She draws you to herself. Makes you look. Then of course, I act like an idiot. Coo coo! Try to make her smile. I do anything to impress the goddess.

All of these images, metaphors, archetypes that surround Christmas and the Winter Solstice are designed to remind us that we are incredibly special, precious, and important. Life is a miracle and we have an important job to do. It is a critically important job. We have to tell the universe’s story. We have to pass it on.

I realize that now I am 48 and Anjelica is nine weeks. What will this world be like when Anjelica is 48? There is no question more important than that. 14th century mystic, Meister Eckhart said,
We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly but does not take place within myself? And what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I also do not give birth to him in my time and my culture? This, then, is the fullness of time. When the Son of God is begotten in us.
The greatest crime we can commit is to sell ourselves short.

Where do we go from here?

We have important work—each of us—for our future, for Anjelica’s future. After 14 billion years of birth pangs, the universe has given birth to us. We need to take responsibility and tell its story and preserve the lives of its storytellers. We have much opposition. Fear, greed, violence, apathy, and shortsightedness, are all as strong now as they have ever been. There is a darkness to be sure. But the ancient scriptures also preserve this important truth. With it, I close:

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

The light is within you. Let it shine.


  1. I really liked this meditation! Big changes are seldom mapped out for us, are they?

  2. Yoga is a way of life, a conscious act, not a set or series of learning principles. The dexterity, grace, and poise you cultivate, as a matter of course, is the natural outcome of regular practice. You require no major effort. In fact trying hard will turn your practices into a humdrum, painful, even injurious routine and will eventually slow down your progress. Subsequently, and interestingly, the therapeutic effect of Yoga is the direct result of involving the mind totally in inspiring (breathing) the body to awaken. Yoga is probably the only form of physical activity that massages each and every one of the body’s glands and organs. This includes the prostate, a gland that seldom, if ever, gets externally stimulated in one’s whole life.