Rev. Ashley Harness
Christmas Eve, 2016
Her name wasn’t Mary, but Zintkala Mahpiya Wi Blackowl – Sky Bird Woman. From the Sicangu and Ihanktonwan Lakota tribes, she came to Standing Rock from Oregon in August to stand with her people against the Dakota Access Pipeline. More than that, she came to claim sovereignty over sacred, indigenous land long stolen. And she came to embody sovereignty over her own, pregnant body.
Sky Bird Woman could have gone home as she grew and her baby grew inside her. She could have gone to a hospital when she went into labor, as the medical team at the camp encouraged her. But as she said in an interview, “There has been something really important and special about this pregnancy. I really felt that this was where she wanted to be born… Having babies is my act of resistance; our reproductive rights as Native women have been taken away from us in so many ways… At one time, we were forcibly sterilized…”
So on October 12th, 2016 in the middle of the night, alone in her tipi but with her sisters and elder-women nearby and ready if she needed them, Sky Bird Woman gave birth in the tradition of her ancestors. Her daughter, Mni Wiconi, which means, “water is life,” was born healthy and strong, a sign of hope for her people Sky Bird Woman surely, like Mary, also pondered in her heart.
“For a child has been born for us, a daughter given to us; authority rests upon her shoulders and she is named Mni Wiconi, Water Is Life.”
Jesus – the Prince of Peace, the Mighty One, the Wonderful Counselor, the reminder that Water Is Life – is born this year and every Christmas in so many bodies and so many communities. We celebrate because this is the season when we remember that God chooses to be born into the pain and promise of all our messy, wrinkly, muscled, fatty, pimply, sagging, tired, toned and still impossibly gorgeous human bodies. We celebrate because God chooses to be born amidst empire, both ancient and modern, under emperor Caesars past and soon to take office. We celebrate because God chooses to be born into the world as an act of loving solidarity with us and all of creation.
Jesus just never looks like the picture of princely, mighty, everlasting power our world teaches us to expect will save us. God doesn’t appear as a superhero or CEO or king or president in our midst. The angel tells us instead to look for the saving, healing, loving, liberating and joyful presence of God with us “wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” Or perhaps today, the angel would tell us to look in a tipi. Or in a detention center. Or a refugee camp. Or a survivors’ shelter. Or public housing. Or a tent city under a highway overpass. Or even in our own sources of shame and fear.
In short, just like the shepherds over 2000 years ago, the angels today are asking us to go look for and follow God’s messy, raw and perfect Love in all the seemingly wrong places. Just like the shepherds, we might be busily consumed by the ordinary exhaustion of our lives. Instead of watching sheep all night, many of us are bleary-eyed from overflowing email inboxes, too many meetings, creeping deadlines, endless to-dos and technology that creates nightshifts on our couches because we can’t put our phones down even though we are no longer technically ‘at work.’
Not to worry, the scripture tells us angels will break into our lives too and steal our attention like they have done with the thousands of years of busy shepherds before us. We too might be terrified of the so-called “glory of the Lord” that shines around us when the angel shows up. Some of us might run away, or try our best to numb out the noise with our favorite coping strategies, or get obsessed with blaming each other for that weird light in the night and fail to recognize the angel. But all of us are invited instead to stick close to each other and listen, finding that when we hold each other close, awe sneaks up and scares our fear away. And together we might be brave enough to follow the trail of God’s Love the angel tells us will be made manifest in all the seemingly wrong places.
What are the seemingly wrong places in your own life or family where you might be called to show up with reverence and joy, like those shepherds 2000 years ago? Who is the angel threatening your ordinary night with a thrill of hope, just outside your comfort zone? Where might we together meet the vulnerable power of God born in this world on Christmas to help us “establish [peace] and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onwards and for evermore.”?
Ponder in your hearts.
“For a child has been born for us and in us, a child is given to us; authority rests upon her shoulders and she is named Mni Wiconi, Water Is Life, Prince of Peace, Mighty Counselor.”
May we look for and follow the children of God in all the seemingly wrong places on a pilgrimage to Love, capital L, born anew today and everyday.