25 December 2012
Today, I’d like to take a different slant on our thoughts, by talking about Buddhism.
It is very popular today, really quite trendy, to have a Buddha statue in your house or garden. How many people here have one?
I think the thing that appeals is that in our very materialistic society, we are searching for something spiritual, and let’s face it, the church does not seem to have all the answers!
So Buddhism is an alternative which many people find attractive – there is the whole approach to mindfulness, the practice of meditation, and the hope of finding some peace and calm in the midst of our busy lives.
Siddarta Guatama, the founder of Buddhism, was a very wealthy prince who lived in around 580BC. His parents wanted to protect him from the evil and suffering of the world, and so they kept him inside the palace. But one day he went out and saw the suffering of his fellow humans in the shape of an old man, a sick man, a dead man, and a holy man. This set him on his search for meaning, until finally he came to enlightenment, where he found the 4 Noble Truths, which are not hard to agree with:
Life is full of suffering, the cause of suffering is attachment to this world, we need to seek detachment from the world, and aim to finally be freed from this world in a state of Nirvana. Key ideas in this are the cycle of constant rebirth in reincarnation, which is a way of paying for our sins, and the idea of karma, a record of the balance between our good and bad deeds.
It is no wonder Buddhism is popular today in our spiritual vacuum, because there is a lot here which makes sense.
But the main concept of becoming detached from this world of suffering and pain is a very different approach to the approach of Jesus.
He saw the suffering of the world, caused by our sin, and decided to become part of it. The movement here is the opposite of Buddha: it is a movement of engagement with our finite human nature. This doesn’t mean that we can’t benefit from things like meditation and mindfulness, which are common to Buddhism, but it does mean a very different view of humankind and a call for a different action in response to God’s intervention.
At the heart of Christianity is what we call the “Incarnation” = en-flesh-ment
The old word in the Bible for “flesh” is Sarx
In Latin it translates into “carnal” - of the flesh.
I’m sure you will have heard of the Catholic idea of carnal and venial sins…carnal sins are the acts which show that we are in the clutches of physical addictions, which on their own will harm us – things like lust, greed, envy and so on.
But the Incarnation of Jesus shows us at the very core of life that
GOD MADE US PHYSICAL BEINGS, AND WHAT HE MADE IS GOOD…VERY GOOD. It has gone awry, but at its core the physical world is good, and not something to deny or escape from.
So the angel appears to Mary, and tells her she is going to have a physical, flesh and blood baby – Son of God and Son of Man.
The child in her will become the perfect model of what a human being should be like.
And so John opens his Good News about Jesus in a similar way that I have done today – he addresses people in terms of the philosophy of the day, and takes the abstract idea of “The Word” (A Greek idea about the creative power behind all things) and says: This Word is God. This Word made everything. This Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.
We sing of the same idea in the carol, ‘Hark the Herald angels sing’, in the words, “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail the incarnate deity, pleased as man with man to dwell, Jesus our Immanuel.”
The highlight is verse 14: “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”
What does this mean for us this Christmas Day?
If Jesus and Buddha were to meet face to face, the dialogue would be quite interesting!
The flesh is not evil: God loves us as his beautiful creatures, made originally in His own image. We do not need to totally deny our physical being to find true spiritual enlightenment. We are “spiritual beings on a human journey”.
But the flesh and physical life we have is not God – we have fallen from our original state and need redemption. To see it as the most important thing is idolatry – and leads to an empty, unsatisfying materialism. (Just look at all that Christmas hype!)
Our lives here are a gift of God and He endorses our human life by becoming one of us. Jesus lived a real life in time and history, and even now has a physical body in heaven which still bear the scars of the crucifixion. (This is the Lamb of God in the centre of the throne in heaven)
Our lives here are temporary, which is incredibly sad and painful, but there is far better still to come: not a vague detachment where the individual soul is absorbed into the Universal Consciousness, but perfect life where each one of us will discover the unique perfection of the life God has made within us. Heaven will be a wonderful place of fulfillment and wholeness!
Today we celebrate the fact that God became one of us
We worship Christ our Brother who has taken our flesh and redeemed it
Who sits at the place of all authority with his wounded human flesh, to be the very symbol of LOVE itself.
At the centre of life is not emptiness or a need to detach from our individuality or our body, or a need to be reincarnated thousands of times to atone for our sin, but love itself, in which we find redemption and the fulfillment of everything we are as human beings and creatures.
As you eat your Christmas dinner and open your presents to each other, remember the insight of the Buddha – these things here are all temporary – and also remember the promise of the Christ – you will live with me forever, because I have taken on your flesh and become one of you.
This is God’s amazing gift of Christ-mas. Eternal life.
Unwrap the present. Receive it with joy.
And give thanks with your own gift by giving your life back to God as the Christmas present He will be delighted with.
The Anglican Parish of Banyule