Imagination

John l:l-18

Well, Christmas has come and gone. What is there left to say about this event which we celebrated?

Christmas is many things. It is a legend. It is a love story, which has been told and retold for l,900 years. When I came out of the hospital on Christmas night, I thought about the Christmas story. It occurred to me that one of the salient marks of that story is its appeal to our imagination. And in so doing, the Christmas story celebrates our imagination.

Imagination, like logic and reason, is a gift from God. Like reason and memory, it separates man from the animals. It is the power of imagination which enables us to move beyond the literal here and now. Imagination enables us to reach out, and to move within. It is the power of the poet, the mystic, the artist. It is that which enables us to have vision, to extrapolate, and to deal with images which open up an event, a person, or a perception. Imagination is not simply wishful thinking, day dreaming, fantasizing, speculating, or hallucinating. Rather, imagination is the power to see creatively and to bring forth one’s whole being, and to be part of the regenerative and recreating process of life. In delusion, imagination can remove us from the reality of life. In thoughtful meditation it can move us deeper into the reality of life. Now look at the Christmas story. Here is a pregnant Jewish girl with her fiance. Traveling to Bethlehem to comply with the tax census, they stay in a stable, where Mary gives birth to Jesus. To the literal, practical, factual eye, a simple, plain story.

It is the genius of the story that it ignites the imagination. What woman has not felt the precious mystery of birth? Who has not stood before a mother and child and not felt that they were at heaven’s gate? It is the gift of imagination that enables us to see the story for what it is: a story of new birth, of new beginnings, of new hope, of new community.

As the story of the birth of Jesus was told and retold, men remembered appropriate passages in the prophets: Isaiah and Micah. They recalled the promise of incense and myrrh, the shepherds in the fields and the wise men from the east. These were not fabrications, added to gussy up the story. They were the fruits of faith. As men and women told and retold the story of Jesus Christ, the prophet, rabbi, martyr, messiah, they were able to see beyond the two dimensional world of the birth story to the reality behind it.

I think this would have been just another story of a god child of Greek mythology, or of a divine child of Eastern mythologies, if it were not for the fact that the story is simple and plain and set within the context of the story of the covenant people of the Jews, who knew God to be acting in history, and who looked for a messiah. The Christ event elicited from Jesus’ followers an over powering conviction, a firm faith, that within His life and death there lay a new relationship, a new revelation, a new covenant between God and man. Imagination, fueled by faith, opened up the Christmas story, and revealed in its simplicity the giving forth of God’s nature.

And that, of course, is what happens in our passage from the Gospel of John. John retells the birth story, but not in the narrative pictures of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. John says, “Here is the giving forth, the making manifest, of God’s very nature.” And so John uses the concepts “truth,” and “light,” and “word” to describe the presentation in Mary’s son of the very nature of God. In this little baby, you and I glimpse the creative, renewing, and redeeming power of God’s love.

Imagination articulates God’s awesome reality.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth . . . ” (Jn. l:1-5,14) Amen.