This is the Sunday of Christmastide when we begin to consider what God has done in the birth of Jesus. In some homes by now the tree has been taken down, perhaps decorations put away. Stores are advertising year-end sales. Some people have already bought presents and cards for next year at significant savings. In the church though it is still Christmas. We have 12 precious days to focus on the wonder of God's love and what it means.
Here are some principal ideas about what the birth of Jesus means. Each of us can find insight in them and grow in our understanding of why the church has held these days to be a festival second only to Easter. For those who wonder, the 12 days of Christmas run from after Christmas Day until the festival day of Epiphany on January 6th.
The first principal is the Incarnate Christ: "The word became flesh and dwelt among us - in the Hebrew Emmanuel." God decided to enter into a personal relationship with humanity. God became like you and me—flesh. God could have chosen simply to watch and see what would happen, but instead chose to connect, interact, and experience the human condition. Not only that, God limited the experience to ours—no special privileges. God took on the living conditions of the time: the smell, the thirst and poverty, the ravages of disease and discomfort. Jesus was not offered anything better than others because of who he was.
So, what does the Incarnate Christ mean for us? It means God wants a relationship with every one of us, not just a chosen few. God wants us to know we are loved, valued, and worth saving, that we are precious. God wants to draw us together into a kingdom of life that is abundant and rich, that has lots of entry points and that involves many different people. Yes, we are all the beloved and loved despite many not knowing or not wishing to know this.
The Incarnate Christ also gives us a guide for mission. If God chose to come and live among us and be like us, then our mission is to seek out those especially who are marginal, lonely, lost, in prison, hurt, angry, afraid, and unsuccessful right where we live—and hang out with them. We can be their light in the darkness, and we can experience God's grace in solidarity with them. If some think that is socialist and to be avoided, sadly they have missed God’s purpose and the love offered and the grace given in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
This leads to the second principal - the Redemptive Christ. Helen Keller, whose life is depicted in the classic movie, The Miracle Worker, lived in a world of deafness and darkness. Her teacher, Ann Sullivan, after much frustration in trying to communicate, takes her to the family well, pumps water over her, then spells the word W-A-T-E-R into Helen's hand, and then pronounces the word as she holds Helen's hand to her throat. Suddenly, the world becomes real and connected to Helen, and her life is never the same again.
Redemption is something like that. God decided the world was worth redeeming and chose to act by coming among us and giving us a model for humanity in Jesus Christ. We no longer have to stumble in the dark, wondering who we are supposed to become. God has begun redemption in each of us through our Baptism. It's a life-long work of remodelling and rebuilding. But Jesus has moved into the neighbourhood, and nothing will ever be the same because of it. Instead of God saying, "Let's see what they do…" God says, "Here is what I am going to do". God acted in a profound way, and we celebrate the action in every Eucharist, reminding ourselves of God's project and of our part in it.
A third principal is that of the Cosmic Christ. Jesus didn't simply show up one day, and he wasn't adopted. We are not just enjoying a chummy relationship with a guy from Galilee. When we are baptised, we enter into a personal relationship with everything that is created and with the divine creator. This principal has never quite caught on in our culture, but other cultures, including many first nations of many countries including the Maori, Aboriginal and Native American, have always known and believed in the sacred relationship of all life.
Having a relationship with the Cosmic Christ means the world is not ours to possess. The title deed already belongs to another. It is rather ours to care for, and includes the land, water, the animals, and plants, and the people of this earth. How we live as a people of the Cosmic Christ should be notable in terms of how we use things, preserve and recycle them, and what we leave behind for others. Since we as Western Nations consume much of the world's available resources while others are in want, believing in a Cosmic Christ should make us want to do everything in our power to see, out of our abundance, that all people have what they need. The Cosmic Christ expects nothing less.
We have come quite a distance from the babe in the manger. Our journey should not be one away from the crib but into it, for the babe of Bethlehem has brought to us profound power for relationships that redeem. Although many will be glad to see the old year pass away, especially with its turmoil, terror, and upheaval for all of us, we can greet the New Year with something more than relief. We can with joy celebrate what we asked for in Advent: Emmanuel—God with us!