There is an old story about a dying monastery in a small village. The monastery which had once thrived on monks, visitors, faith and prosperity, had fallen on hard times. All that remained at the monastery were a handful of aging monks. The abbot at a loss for what to do, decided to seek console from the wise rabbi visiting his hermitage in the woods outside the monastery.
The rabbi agreed that it seemed as if the people at the monastery and in the village had lost the Spirit. Together, they read the Torah and wept for the people. The rabbi apologized for not having any advice for the abbot save to say, “the Messiah is one of you”.
When the abbot returned to his monastery the other monks were saddened to hear that the rabbi had offered no advice. The abbot did share the rabbi’s cryptic message that: “the Messiah is one of you”.
In the days and weeks and months that followed, the monks continued to ponder this message. They started paying more attention to each other and wondering if it was truly possible that one of them was the Messiah. As they continued to wonder who the Messiah might be, they began to treat each other with the utmost respect in the off chance that one of them was He. And, on the off chance that each one himself might be, they began to treat themselves with extraordinary respect as well.
Since the forest in which it resided was beautiful, it just so happened that villagers continued to visit the monastery from time to time. As they did so, people began to feel and sense the deep aura of respect that was emanating from the monks and the monastery.
This gentle aura seemed to radiate from the monastery and without naming it or realizing it, people became compelled to return. They began to bring their friends who in turn brought their friends. Eventually some of the younger men began talking to the old monks until one day, one of them asked to join the monastery.. and then another, and another, until the monastery was once again thriving.
The monks began to treat one another with deep and profound respect once they learned that the Messiah was among them. And indeed the Messiah was among them. That is what it means to be made in the image and likeness of God. It means that the divine is within us all, no matter our story.
This concept is at the core of the Judeo-Christian tradition… it’s discussed in the very first chapter of the very first book of our shared Scripture. “So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them” (Gen. 1:27). And yet, how often do we live as if this is true? How often do we treat those we meet as if God is within them? How often do we treat ourselves, mentally and physically, as if God is within us?
On this Christmas Eve, it seems especially relevant to consider as we interact with our families and friends.. with other creatures.. with our land.. with our environment, that maybe, just maybe, there is an element of the divine within it all.
Maybe if we actively look for the God within ourselves and others, we might actually find it there. Maybe if we believe the Messiah is one of us, there the Messiah will be.
Many blessings to you and yours,
Nikki Holm, MA, Chaplain