The era of the spirit
The Scriptures of the Christian Church tell us that the birth of the baby in the manger at Bethlehem came at the end of one era, and the beginning of another. In Luke’s Gospel, the Angel Gabriel visits first not Mary, nor Joseph, but one Zechariah, a priest of the temple of Yahweh, and his wife, Elizabeth, a descendant of Aaron. Aaron the brother of Moses and the first of the Priests of the people who fled slavery in Egypt.
In a story thick with parallels, the priest and his wife, ancient and barren, are to become the parents of a prophetic figure who will pave the way for the ministry of the baby to be born in the manger. John the Baptist, who leaps in Elizabeth’s womb as Mary, pregnant with the hope of God, draws near. The lesson is clear. The ancient faith of Israel is about to be invigorated.
The Gospels have it that Jesus opened up cracks in the institution that had overtaken the faith of his ancestors. An institution more absorbed with itself, its rules, its definitions of propriety than with helping the world find God, or God find the world.
Jesus offered God’s love to everyone he encountered and called on them to do the same. Something we might expect from one born in a manger, celebrated by angels, sages, and shepherds. One threatened with imminent death by an angry and insecure king.
Some Christians, like theologian and author Phyllis Tickle, think that the system of worship Jesus was born into had existed for two thousand years or so. She calls it the era of God the Father. For the past two thousand years, Christians have focused their worship and institutions on the life, ministry and incarnation of God in Jesus of Nazareth. The era of Jesus the Christ. That era is ending now, says Tickle, as we enter the era of the Spirit. The Great Emergence, she calls it.
One doesn’t have to be a scholar to see the parallels. Most of our institutions seem concerned with self preservation and strict adherence to almost nonsensical rules and regulations. Concepts of mutual support, the well being of humans and the created world, or opening up hearts and souls to the essential love of God, might never have existed in their makeup. Many babies born in our time are caught in deepest poverty. Their refugee parents finding a stall in a stable a respite from economic systems or armies gone mad.
Phyllis Tickle and other prophets tell us we are in the midst of a great transformation. Institutions collapse as the power they wielded is taken back by the Spirit and poured into the hearts, minds, bodies and souls of Gods children. Something new is emerging. A billion babies, born into a billion stables, rising up in love to rewrite the world in the era of the Spirit.
What a present, for the present-day.
Keith Simmonds is a diaconal minister in the Communities in Faith Pastoral Charge serving Beaver Valley, Rossland, Salmo and Trail.