Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Buddhist King, the Priest, and the Christmas Elephant

Christmas Eve midnight mass may seem like an odd choice for this Baptist, but I enjoy the ceremony, music, pageantry, and beauty of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church's sanctuary as a time for my personal welcoming of the Christ Child.  Our own Advent and Christmas services at my church are treasures, and I would not trade them; but somehow, after all the "Baptist stuff" is over, sitting as a stranger among friends, hearing the same scriptures and the same carols amidst the foreign - to me - liturgies, chants, responses, and rituals of these Christian brothers and sisters adds something unique and special to my Christmas.

Tonight, Monsignor Hart told the Buddhist parable of the king who invited a number of blind philosophers to touch something they had never before encountered - an elephant - to try to figure out what this creature could be.  One touched the legs, another the trunk, one the tusks, another the girth, and still another the tail.  When it came time to explain the truth of what an elephant is, one was certain that an elephant is like a trunk of a tree, while another swore that an elephant was like a woolen rug.  Another said that no, elephants were clearly like large storage rooms, but others said an elephant is like a broom, or a pillar, and so on.  And the king sat back and laughed at all these supposedly wise men who, persuaded solely by their limited personal experiences, were light years away from the truth.

In our post-modern world of relativism, many view religion and God as though they were blind men touching parts of an elephant.  God means this to you and that to me, and religion serves this purpose for one and that purpose for another.  We continue to seek God, to look for true religion as we wander the universe and to feel blindly into the creations that are beyond us.  Many become convinced that God and religion are different things to different people, with varying purposes and "truths" based on our own experiences.  And somewhere, we are sure that somebody laughs at us all.

But Christmas is here.  And Christmas teaches something else.

The Buddhist king does not know about Christmas.

Christmas teaches something audacious, something that many in the world - likely many of you reading this - are not ready or willing to entertain even as an option.  Christmas means that we can know the truth of God. 

The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.  And we have seen His glory.  He is the one who was present when the morning stars sang together and through whom the world was created; the one who declared, "I and the Father are one;" the one who answered the demand "show us the father" by saying, "Have you been this long with me and yet still do not know who I am?"  He is the exact representation of God.  The infinite, eternal God is beyond us; but He longed for us to know Him. We could not explain the elephant, so the elephant became one of us.

God is beyond us.  So He condescended to walk with us, as one of us, so that we can know and understand who He is.

Religion is not about our search for God.  Christmas tells us that God searches for us.  Christmas promises that God came to us because we were feeling blindly and getting confused by tusks and toenails.

Our king does not laugh at our blindness.  Our king ends our blindness by bringing light... and that light is the life of men.  And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness shall not overcome it.

The Buddhist parable about a too-clever-by-half king who ridicules his people was explained to me by a Catholic priest.  And out of it I got a picture of the Christmas elephant.  I was reminded that we can and do know everything we need to know about God.  I was reminded that our search for God gives way to God's search for us.  And I was reminded that our king does not ridicule our failures but instead opens our blind eyes.

Christ has come so that we can see who God really is.  Our blindness is over. 

Arise, shine, for your light has come.

Merry Christmas.

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