Advent, Sex and Transformation ::
Innocent faces gathered on the stairs of the sanctuary podium, spellbound as he carried the figurines of a woman and man making their way to a little village in the night. This woman was pregnant, he told them. Their eyes darted and bodies shifted uneasily.
It was the first week of Advent and during the pastor’s children’s sermon the mystery of incarnation unfolded before my eyes with a new reality. An anxious reality. The more he talked of angels telling Joseph to marry a woman who was with child by the Holy Spirit, the more those little Oedipal hormones raced until—without warning—his four-year-old daughter launched from the floor like Rocky the Flying Squirrel and landed in a headlock on the pastor’s back!
Right smack dab in the middle of the Christmas story—replete with the nativity set—was sex. God sex. Gosh, we won’t even talk plainly to youngsters about where babies come from, and yet we introduce them to sex with supernatural stories about it. What’s the message? I wonder if this influences the way we Christians are so conflicted about sexuality? Could our anxiety about sex be about this divine wild card? That little baby Jesus lays in a little manger with his little genitalia and all we see are the angels singing, the wise men bringing not-so-childlike gifts, and the shepherds kneeling? The lambs, ox, and ass were probably the only ones to really understand—and not be anxious about it.
Should baby Jesus have been a hermaphrodite third-sexed hybrid, neither male nor female, but some kind of humanoid lacking altogether in sexual orientation? Can a testosterone-laden male Jesus save women? Did Francis of Assisi, founder of the celibate Franciscans, really want boys and girls to squirm at the sight of his nativity scene? (It is Francis who is credited with creating the figurine scene).
A healthy spirituality requires a healthy view of sexuality. Many heresies abound that carry on the historic anxiety of religious people about sexuality and human nature. In spite of repeated councils and theological arguments affirming the full divinity and full humanity of Christ, it is still easier for many to believe that Jesus was divine than to accept his full humanity. Images of a sexually-neuter, passionate-less Jesus defy the likelihood that in Jesus’ Palestinian culture a celibate rabbi would have been controver-sial big time. It is possible that he was married, argue many scholars.
The religion-induced uneasiness about sexuality is no more clearly seen than in approaches to the most sexual book in the Bible, the Song of Songs, in the Hebrew Scriptures. At one level, the book is a love story that exalts a couple’s romantic passions. But, the book has also been widely hailed through its history as a mystical allegory of the relationship between God (the Lover) and God’s people (the Beloved). The title is literally “The Most Beautiful Song” and is believed to have originally been a love song sung at weddings. The allegorical interpretation emphasizes its spiritual nature and the song was often used in this way during Passover in the spring. Rabbi Akiva, who according to the Talmud was the only rabbi to enter Paradise and live to tell about it, referred to the Song of Songs as the holiest book in the Bible, “the holy of holies” of Scripture.
For Christians who took the Song as an allegory, it depicted Christ pursuing His church. Such a view is too erotic for many religious folks. Any passion of Christ, as with one’s own libido, is best kept repressed and at a safe distance. Puritans avoided the book altogether as some sort of anomaly, and when it was referenced, the allegorical method was used. Since God is nowhere mentioned in the book, the debate has continued throughout Jewish and Christian history about whether it should be in the canon. Can anything sexual be spiritual?
To define spiritual love in purely non-affectionate, non-sensual ways is to ignore much of the passion of God’s desire for us. The tradition of the Song of Songs as portraying the relationship between God and God’s people is a sensuous, erotic one. Jesus’ use of marriage as a metaphor for our relationship with God likewise entails all the facets of love that can be expressed in the Greek language, and more: self-sacrificing, companioning and sensual. What kind of marriage lacks friendship and sensuality?
In our prayerful journeys, when we desire to snuggle God, crawl up in the lap of God, hug Jesus, feel God as a warm fuzzy—these may be expressions of the erotic in our spirituality. The biblical metaphors indicate that God likewise wants intimacy with us in all aspects of our being. The spiritual journey is about our growing into this relationship with God, not just in our ability to think properly about God or behave according to God’s rules.
Dare you, this Advent, to invite God to enter your full life? To permeate the whole of your humanity and adorn your earthiness with divine splendor? Do you dare to risk each pleasure with a “Thanks be to God” benediction, and by doing so, allow God to transform your sensuality? If we were so integrated with the divine longing, would our Christmas-time materialistic passions be likewise transformed into a deeper celebration of God’s abundance?
Christ is coming! Pursue peace with a passion. Announce the radical subversion of worldly powers with the peaceable seductions of God’s longing for relationship. Give birth to a new reality in your life and world—a reality so replete with God’s permeation that it supplants all that stands for self-absorption, bitterness, and marginal humanity and creates, instead, a holy marriage of flesh and spirit.