Christmas Eve Sermon: All are Broken, All are Holy

2020 January 2

All Are Broken, All Are Holy

Ana Levy-Lyons

Christmas Eve, 2019

First Unitarian, Brooklyn

Harry Potter is adopted (reluctantly) and raised in a muggle home – a household of ordinary, non-magical people living a middle class life with no loftier concerns than keeping up with the neighbors and showering gifts on their obnoxious biological son. Harry is treated with contempt, even cruelty. He sleeps in a small closet and is forbidden to ask questions. He knows nothing of his illustrious past or his illustrious destiny. He doesn’t know the truth about himself – that he is a powerful wizard. But even as a child his magical powers are flowing through him. He has already defeated the forces of evil once and he is fated to battle with them again and again.

This is a contemporary version of an ancient myth. It’s the myth of the king or the holy being disguised in rags, living camouflaged among common people. There is always a villain who loathes them because the powerful force of their goodness is a threat to every nefarious design. And so the few wise people who are in the know hide them away and keep them safe until they can grow into their full power. Sometimes, as in Harry Potter’s case, they don’t know their special identity and it’s slowly revealed over the course of their journey. In other cases, they do know and they teach the world through miracles and wonders.

The Hindu story of Krishna’s birth is one of the latter. Krishna is born as an incarnation of the Supreme Being on this earth. The reading Meagan shared describes how the whole earth explodes with beauty at the moment of his birth – fires leaping up, flower petals falling from the sky, the stars shining with unusual brilliance. Krishna is rescued at birth from the evil king Kamsa who has learned that this baby will be a threat to the kingdom and so is trying to kill every baby. Krishna (who is called “Lord of Lords”) is hidden away and raised in obscurity, in a simple, rural cowherding family. But he knows his divine essence.

Sounds familiar, right? The Jesus story is so similar. A baby is born — an incarnation of God and the natural king of his people — born in a manger to a poor family from an oppressed community. Only a few wise people know of his divine nature – and they know it because of celestial disturbances that occur at his birth. The evil king of the land, King Herod, is threatened and seeks to have the baby – and every baby – killed, but Jesus (who is also called “Lord of Lords”) is taken away and protected until he is old enough to come back and lead his revolution.

Versions of this same story keep coming up across cultures and across generations. It’s humanity’s recurring dream and it surfaces over and over through a million metaphors, in different languages, in different poetry. It’s as if we are chewing on something, trying to process something, maybe trying to remember some deep truth about who we are. This story expresses a longing that we each have, a memory of knowledge of our true nature – that we carry the spark of holiness within us. The Holy One – Jesus, Krishna, even Harry Potter – represents each of us. Despite however our external circumstances may look, every one of us is made in the image of the divine, touched by an unending love and powerful beyond measure. In the words of the Sufi poet Hafiz, “You are a divine elephant with amnesia trying to live in an ant hole.”

But that ant hole can be so convincing. The special effects are so good, the people around us acting like ants as well and telling us all about our limitations and everything that we can’t do and can’t be so often that we come to believe it. The evil kings, whoever they are in our lives, really do stop us in our tracks, drive the holy infant into a corner, and we forget who we are. We think we are only human.

And of course, that’s true too. We are human. We fail at things that we try to do and sometimes we fail to try. We’re a hot mess, and sometimes just a mess. We make mistakes, we do wrong, sometimes we hurt the people we love. We are never going to be perfect and when we expect perfection we cause pain to ourselves and others. We are wounded by the violence of others. We are all broken and in need of healing. We’re only human. And yet, we’re not only human. Our dual nature is one of the great mysteries of existence. And so these great, mythic tales help us look at ourselves from “both sides now.”

There’s a wonderful story of how Krishna tries to show his true nature to his adoptive mother. He has her look into his mouth and when he opens his mouth, the text says that she looks in and sees “the whole eternal universe, and heaven, and the regions of the sky, and the orbit of the earth with its mountains, islands, and oceans; she saw the wind, and lightning, and the moon and stars, and the zodiac; and water and fire and air and space itself; she saw the vacillating senses, the mind, the elements, …all the forms of life and time and nature and action and hopes, and her own village, and herself.” And after she has this mystical experience of seeing the interior of her son as the entire divine manifestation, Krishna closes his mouth and goes back to just being a young boy again and she forgets everything that she saw.

Christmas celebrates a royal birth. But it’s a royal birth that occurs in an ordinary place, an ordinary baby born in the context of poverty and political upheaval. Jesus could be any one of us. It speaks to our deepest intuition that, regardless of the circumstances of our birth, we are divine beings. Jesus was lucky. His parents knew it – each of them had been contacted in advance. And the three wise men knew it and they gave him gifts to signify that they knew. Harry Potter was lucky. Dumbledore and Hagrid and all the Hogwarts people knew it. But many of us are not so lucky. The people in our lives often don’t see our unique radiance – they only see the muggle surface. As in the song we’re about to hear, “Sweet Little Jesus Boy,” most people on the street “don’t know who you are.” And so eventually we forget also – we become those divine elephants with amnesia.

Christmas is a time to remember. And it’s a time to help each other remember. That we’re only human, but we’re not only human. We are human and divine, common and royal, broken and holy. When we look inside, we contain the whole cosmos within us. Each of us is gifted with a unique, irreplaceable genius. And so on this Christmas Eve, we will continue our tradition of honoring that holiness within us all – and helping us remember our true nature. On your way out at the end of the service, you’ll be offered the gifts of the three wise men – gold, frankincense, and myrrh. This is to acknowledge the majesty of all that is in you. And as you receive each royal gift, you will be blessed with these words of truth: “You are royalty. You are only human. You are holy.”



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