Toward a New Cosmology: Advent 2011

Progressive, non-theistic Christians may wonder what is the point to Advent in the 21st century. There were no angels bringing astounding news to an unmarried girl; there was no “virgin birth.”  But in Luke’s story, there was a subversive undertone.  As foretold by the Hebrew prophets, and prayed for by Luke’s contemporary Jewish friends, because God is just, and the world belongs to God (not Caesar) God took direct action against the oppression of the Roman Empire.  In a parody of the story of Caesar’s birth, Jesus of Nazareth was heralded by angels, and born of a virgin.  We can still hope for direct action against oppressive Empire and for distributive justice-compassion; against a greed world and for a share world; against zero-sum gaming of every system devised by humanity, and for a radical abandonment of self-interest.

In a series of essays (Coming Back to Earth: From gods, to God, to Gaia) Lloyd Geering describes a spiritual and religious progression in human consciousness.  Pre-modern people lived in what might be called an enchanted world, in which everything from the rocks, the rivers, the trees, to animals, birds and humans – embodied spirit.  This was followed by the so-called “axial age” when people realized there was a difference between living creatures and inanimate objects, which gave rise to the paradigm-shifting concept of one god.  Geering brings humanity full circle from the enchanted world of pre-modern people living a seamless existence, not separated from the natural world, to the possibility of a re-enchanted world, in which“secular” means –once-again – earth-centered.  He concludes: “We came from the earth.  We remain creatures of the earth.  The hope of our species for a viable future depends on our mystical re-union with the earth.”

In The Coming of the Cosmic Christ, Matthew Fox writes:

It is not enough to celebrate the Cosmic Christ as “the pattern that connects” and the “bearer of coherence” as expressed in Jesus.  There is a real sense in which the Cosmic Christ is not born yet.  Even in Jesus the Cosmic Christ has yet to come to full birth, for those who say they believe in Jesus have scarcely brought forth the Cosmic Christ at all on the mass scale that Mother Earth requires.  One might speak, then, of the already born Cosmic Christ (realized eschatology) who we see only “in a mirror and darkly” (1 Cor. 13:12) and of the not-yet-born Cosmic Christ (unrealized eschatology) who is the Christ of justice, of creativity, of compassion in self and society that yearns to be born and is eager to be born in us.  “What good is it to me,” Meister Eckhart asked, “if the son of God was born to Mary 1400 years ago but is not born in my person and in my culture and in my time?” . . . The name “Christ” means “the anointed one.”  All of us are anointed ones.  We are all royal persons, creative, godly, divine, persons of beauty and of grace.  We are all Cosmic Christs, “other Christs.”  But what good is this if we do not know it? . . . We are all called, like the Cosmic Christ, to radiate the divine presence to/with/from one another.  pp. 136-137.

So here is the raw material from the natural world for a 21st century cosmology that can apply to Advent and Christmas 2011 – We will not see this sequence again for many earthly years:  The Full Moon December 10 wanes to Dark December 23, is “void of course” and sun-synchronous so still invisible at the New Moon 1:06 p.m. (U.S. EST) December 24 – Christmas Eve.  The Sun wanes, the light vanishes, the Earth pauses in its eliptical swing out, pivots, and starts around the other side of our life-giving star.  The Winter Solstice – when the Sun stands still – happens at 12:30 a.m., December 22 (mid-Atlantic U.S.) and seems to last until early January.  Here’s why (from EarthSky.org):

The December solstice marks the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere and longest day in the southern hemisphere. But the earliest sunset – or earliest sunrise south of the equator – seems to defy logic when it happens before the solstice.  The key to understanding is to focus on what is called true solar noon – the time of day that the sun reaches its highest point, in its journey across the sky, not the clock time of sunset.  In early December, true solar noon comes nearly 10 minutes earlier by the clock than it does at the solstice around December 21. With true noon coming later on the solstice, so will the sunrise and sunset times.  This discrepancy between clock time and sun time occurs primarily because of the tilt of the Earth’s axis and the Earth’s elliptical orbit around the sun. Because Earth’s orbit is not a perfect circle, when Earth is closest to the sun, our world moves fastest in orbit. Our closest point to the sun (perihelion) actually comes in early January. So we are moving fastest in orbit around now, slightly faster than our average speed of 18 miles per second.
The precise date of the earliest sunset depends on the latitude. At mid northern latitudes, it comes in early December each year. At northern temperate latitudes farther north – such as in Canada and Alaska – the year’s earliest sunset comes around mid-December. Close to the Arctic Circle, the earliest sunset and the December solstice occur on or near the same day. The latest sunrise also comes in early January.  The exact dates vary, but the sequence is always the same: earliest sunset in early December, shortest day on the solstice around December 21, latest sunrise in early January.

This may be why our human ancestors – tied to an earthly point of view – thought that the sun stands still at the Winter Solstice.  Fires were lit, sacrifices made, to make certain the sun would continue its journey, and the light would return.

Progressive Christians can use our 21st century, post-modern, post-enlightenment sophistication to find earth-based metaphors for a kenotic god, whose presence is justice and life, and whose absence is injustice and death.

Continue on to read Sea Raven’s Liturgy for Christmas Eve…

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