In the ancient religious tradition,Taoism, everything is built on and around “tau,” which refers to nature, balance, energy, the way of the universe. “Tau” is life at its best. Now, hear this comment on “tau” from Chuang Chou, and yes I know it’s Christmas Eve:
If the Tao could be served up, everyone would serve it up to their lords. If the Tao could be offered, there is no one who would not offer it to their parents. If the Tao could be spoken of, there is no one in the world who would not speak of it to their brothers and sisters. if the Tao could be passed on, there is no one who would not pass it on to their heirs. However, it obviously cannot be so and the reason is as follows. If there is no true centre within to receive it, it cannot remain….
Christmas means receiving, but I don’t mean receiving materialistic gifts. I’m not putting down gift-giving and celebration by any means; however, Christmas means receiving something or some things that are intangible.
At first blush, that may seem simple enough, but more than a few of us have difficulty receiving gifts, especially the life changing ones. Receiving, though, isn’t just a willingness to take what is offered, as Taoism suggests. If there is no true center to receive it, it cannot remain–meaning, to oversimplify, if we have no place for it we may go through the motions of receiving, but we won’t really; we can’t really.
Baby Jesus grew up to be a living message proclaiming the core life truth: God is love. That love is freely offered as a gift that comes with life. There’s nothing you must do or can do to get on the gift list to get it. The only thing we have to do benefit from this, the greatest of all gifts, is to receive it. Yet, there are those who can’t or won’t receive it; some only want gifts that require no effort on their part while others would love to receive the love that is God, but they know they do not have a place to keep it because there no inner space, no centering space, where it may be kept.
By a space to keep it I do not mean something like the equivalent of an inner safe deposit box where the gift is locked away for occasional opening and polishing and use only on special occasions. A centering space for receiving and holding onto love that is God means a place deep down inside where it may flourish and function on a daily, hourly, moment by moment basis. It’s not to be locked away or put away. To the contrary, it must be in a place more like a greenhouse in order to function and flourish and do what it was intended to do.
Without love, and God is love, much is missing from the experience of life. We know this from the dramatic studies of children from whom human love is withheld and how damaged they typically become as a result. On a spiritual level, the same kinds of things happen to us if we refuse to or are unable to receive the gift of God’s love freely and with no strings attached, offered to each of us in every generation within the human family. Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck says that the inability to receive love is almost as destructive as the inability to give it.
Interesting that Jesus’ specialty was loving the largely unloved, encouraging them to risk creating a place within themselves where the gift of love, and God is love, could prevail for the long haul. Can you think of anyone to whom Jesus ministered who was widely loved by all or almost all of those among whom they lived? Can you think of anyone to whom Jesus reached out who had no need of his affirmation and the divine love to which he pointed them?
Maybe this pattern of ministry and concern was an integral part of his personality. Maybe, though, as he grew up his mother and father, Mary and Joseph, told him time and again about the circumstances of his birth in Bethlehem, and except for the kindness of an innkeeper who made a comfortable place for them in his barn or cave Mary would had to have given birth alongside a darkened roadway with only Joseph fumbling around in the pitch black to try to help her. The chances that the baby who’d be named Yeshua could have survived such a delivery are slim to none, but because his parents received what was offered out of concern he lived. They sensed that God worked through that stranger. Perhaps that remembrance shaped Jesus’ life and ministry entirely.
“Let every heart prepare him room”: prepare room for God, in other words. You recognize the words of the carol. I remember most of the words to one of the songs we sang in our church youth choir; they’ve stuck with me: “Let [love] be born in you, let [this] love live on in you, and you’ll lead the world to a brighter day.”
Receive it when you can, as you can. There’s no single formula for how it works for everyone and for that matter no uniformity of expression once it’s there. Christmas means receiving.