Anchored and free

December 24th, 2015

In his spiritual autobiography, A Song of Ascents, written in 1968 at the age of 83, E. Stanley Jones reflects on an insight that came to him earlier in life:

"I was free; free to explore, to appropriate any good, any truth found anywhere, for I belonged to the Truth — to Jesus Christ. My one point of the compass was on Jesus, and the other point could swing as far into truth as it was able. For I was anchored and free!"

On Christmas Eve we are anchored in the traditions of familiar Scripture passages, carols and rituals. And yet there is a freedom as well.

What if the core of the Christmas Eve gospel is that the Word became flesh — one point of the compass is the Word that was God, that was in the beginning (John 1:1) and the other point of the compass is the Word that became flesh and lived among us (John 1:14)?

What if God is both anchored and free, unchanging and always adaptive to human need?

What if God is most glorified on a night like Christmas Eve, when the gathered congregation includes those who are most anchored in the church's life and those who are most often far away, and yet who find themselves drawn to carols, candlelight and Communion?

What if these two points of the compass bring out the best in all of us — those who are anchored are most open to the stranger, the refugee and the returning prodigal, while those who are farthest away — in the Apostle Paul’s language in Ephesians 2, the gentiles — are seeking truth and hungering for a tradition?

What is these two points of the compass demonstrate the sacred journey — we process to the altar, we kneel, we lay our gifts before the Holy Family — and, at the same time, “The word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1. 14, The Message), God is moving toward us?

To be anchored and free is to be deeply at home in God and in the world, to be a contemplative and an activist. To be anchored and free is to know the music well enough to improvise. To be anchored and free is to overcome the fears that keep us in our comfort zones. And yet, to be anchored and free is to know the place of shelter, the shadow of his wings, our refuge and strength.

And so we are anchored in basic practices of hearing familiar phrases like —“Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth”, and “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”, singing carols, taking bread into our hands, kneeling at an altar and receiving light from our neighbor’s candle. And in the same moment we are free — free to discover the truth and reality of God wherever we find him, for he is always present, if we eyes to see and ears to hear.

Ken Carter is resident bishop of the Florida Area of the United Methodist Church. He is the author of the forthcoming Near The Cross: A Lenten Journey of Prayer (Abingdon).

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