It was Christmas Eve and we had all gathered around the Christmas tree singing carols and getting ready to open gifts before going to the Midnight Mass. Someone said: ‘Tell us a Christmas story’. This is what he said:
“Waiting, watching, hoping – these are the sentiments of the patient.
These were the sentiments of the People of Israel. But not onlyIsrael. All of human kind has been waiting, watching, hoping. In fact, the entire cosmos (universe) has been waiting, watching and hoping from the beginning, not consciously like humans, of course, but in its own way.
The object of these sentiments was always the fulfilment of God’s promise. In the very act of creation, in that initial ‘flaring forth’, well over 13 billion years ago, God instilled in his creation a promise of fulfilment. In a very real sense we can say that the very cosmos contained a promise, the very cosmos was a promise. This promise was being fulfilled at every stage of the emergence of the universe. This happened when the stars emerged from the ‘flaring forth’. It happened when some stars became planets. It happened when the sun and moon and Earth were formed, and when water emerged on Earth and when, from the water, came forth life of all kinds, fish, birds, plants, flowers, mammals, and humans. At each stage of its emergence the universe was experiencing a partial fulfilment of the promise and getting closer to its final fulfilment. The cosmos has no way of knowing what form the fulfilment will take or when it will happen. But God is faithful to his promises and there will be a total fulfilment.
The promise is applicable to humans as well, since we are an integral part of the cosmos. We witness in ourselves an emerging consciousness whereby we are able to acquire knowledge, invent things (technology) and use this technology for our own purposes. We have made tremendous strides. Some have been helpful to us and to Earth, others not. Our consciousness continues to emerge and evolve. This is all a partial fulfilment of the promise.
The promise was further fulfilled when the Creator took on flesh and became an earthling like us (the Word was made flesh – John 1, 4). God had always been within the process of emergence, he had never been apart from it. Now, however, he manifested his invisible presence in the person of Jesus Christ. This event had already been promised to the People of Israel. Now on the first Christmas this promise was fulfilled. At this historic event the angels sang the praises of God and so did all cosmic beings – the hills clapped their hands with joy, the birds sang and the trees danced.
The implications of God becoming an earthling are tremendous. Like the rest of us humans, God in Jesus is, as it were, ‘an embryo in the womb’ of Earth, drawing life from Earth. Like an infant in the womb, we are totally dependent upon Earth for nourishment and sustenance. In the ‘womb’ of Earth we grow and develop and strive for our full potential. Within the ‘womb’ of Earth we are connected with all other beings of Earth and in a state of interdependence. So it is with God in Jesus.
God had always been within the emerging process of the universe. Now, as partial fulfilment of his promise, he takes upon himself the very stuff of Earth, thus uniting himself with Earth and with every being in Earth. Taking on the very stuff of matter, he identifies himself with Earth and with all its beings. He commits himself more fully to Earth and to the cosmos and makes more concrete his promise to lead the cosmos to total fulfilment in God. As the Christ, God becomes a cosmic being. He put the certainty of the fulfilment of the promise in these words of Jesus: “When I am lifted up I shall draw all things to myself”.
Jesus’ resurrection is both a confirmation and a prototype of the total fulfilment of the promise. The resurrection of Jesus involved the transformation of matter, a making new of matter. Jesus became a new creation. In Jesus’ risen being we see the cosmos and all in it, including humans, in its state of total fulfilment, so often symbolised by the idea of ‘abundance’ (Ps 65,11; Is 30, 23-26). In Jesus’ risen being we get a glimpse of the brilliance and total transformation of the present cosmos. It is not a new, completely different cosmos replacing the present cosmos. In Jesus’ risen being we are given a peek into the ‘new heaven and the new earth’ of Revelation 21, 1, in which the present creation will be in harmony, ordered as it will be according to God’s plan. The interconnectedness of cosmic beings, already contained in the ‘flaring forth’ and continued through the process of evolution, is brought to fulfilment in the resurrection of Christ. This unity of everything in Christ is beautifully echoed in that very ancient hymn, attributed to St. Paul: ‘In the fullness of time God will unite all things in heaven and on earth in Christ’ (Ephesians 1,10).
In the meantime the cosmos and all in it wait with eager longing, look forward and hope for this total fulfilment. The temptation is to despair, so clouded is the future. In fact the cosmos and all in it ‘groans with pain’ (Romans 8, 22) under the burden of decay. Earth’s life support systems are diminishing – the air, water and land are polluted, and Earth’s lungs, the forests, are being destroyed. The beauty and diversity of living forms are disappearing, never to return naturally. Some segments of the human family live in utter destitution. Humans, in a state of alienation from God and among themselves, are partly responsible for Earth’s diminishment. It almost seems that the promise, partially fulfilled at that first Christmas, is lost.
Still, everything in Earth and in the cosmos, waits, looks forward and hopes against hope.”
When he had finished the story, we all paused for deep reflection, seated around the Christmas tree. We prayed that the Christ child would strengthen our hope. After opening the gifts, we went off to the local church for the Midnight Mass. Everything in the liturgy took on a cosmic dimension – beauty and diversity in colour and light; bread, water, wine, candles fashioned from bees wax, incense – all elements of Earth participating in this cosmic act of worship. There, in union with all of creation, we thanked God for his fidelity and asked him to hasten the time of total fulfilment.
In his homily, the priest drew to our attention that the total fulfilment of God’s promise to the universe, and everything in it, would be manifested when the Lord returns. The Lord will return. This is an integral part of our creed. “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again”. He referred us to that section in the Eucharist when he will pray on our behalf ‘as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ’.
After the Mass, we met again in a corner of the churchyard. Our hearts echoed the words of Revelation: ‘Come Lord Jesus’ (22, 20). However, we realised that this was not enough. Like John the Baptist, we are to prepare the way for the Lord’s return and for the emergence of the new heaven and the new earth that will mark the total fulfilment of God’s promise to the cosmos. We are to do all we can to make our present world more suitable for humans and for other creatures. We are to care for Earth and for all its creatures. And so we made a commitment to play our part in enabling Earth, and all in it, to attain the total fulfilment of the promise God had instilled in it from the beginning. Then we went to greet the other parishioners – Merry Christmas.
P.S. The medieval humans viewed themselves as being ‘embryos in the womb of Earth’. This is in sharp contrast to the present Western Industrial view. In the medieval concept, humans share in the energies of all other creatures in the cosmos. There is a sense of humans participation in nature, of being integrated, interconnected and interdependent with all other creatures, rather like sharing in the same life. In present Western Industrial concept, there is a sense of humans being detached, separate and apart from the rest of nature. We alone are made to the image and likeness of God and are empowered by our intellect to lord it over the rest of creation and to exploit nature for our own benefit. There is little thought for the well being of Earth.
(cf. David Toolan SJ ’s article ‘The Voice of the Hurricane: Cosmology and Catholic Theology of Nature’ in the book “And God Saw That It Was Good”, United States Catholic Conference, 1996).