On Christmas morning I asked the question, “What do we have in common with Jesus?” One young man answered: “Our Body.” Out of the mouths of babes come great truths if we are open to hear them.
Yet we are often not.
You see Christmas and the Christ story is about bodies, not just one particular body or one particular instance of incarnation, but about bodies in the myriad of examples found in this unending story. Unfortunately modern Christmas, be it as celebrated in the Church or in secular society is focussed around one particular body, Jesus, and one particular type of body, the child.
Our modern day Christmas looks for salvation through the ordinary body of a small child born in unwelcoming circumstances – a Middle Eastern boy with a name that was not unusual, Jesus. We look at the human child in this story and place all our hopes on him and his small nuclear family. Our crib and manger scenes, our cards and carols, our sermons and homilies, our banners and slogans all point to Jesus as the hope of the world.
Our modern secular society has upped the ante on this and taken this story and placed children at the centre of our existence and the hope for our future salvation. Families withhold none of their resources to ensure their children have everything they need to be a success – the right school, the latest toys, the right social connections and more. They focus down on their children in such detail that the children become diagnosed, massaged and applauded to such an extent that they actually believe they are special, more special than anyone else.
Children in pre kindy are being taught to code, primary school kids are rushed from one activity to another while their parents’ battle exhaustion and high school kids are indulged with an orgy of partying just for finishing school. We look for every reason why our children are not performing to our expectations, the expectation that will save us, and rejoice that they are indeed special because they have a particular diagnosis. There is an organisation that supports families who have children with“Undiagnosed Syndromes”.
The Christmas story has become the story of one particular body – that of a child – and no effort or worship is spared in our attempt to adapt a false reading of the Christmas story for our secular salvation.
Yes the Christmas story is about a child, but it is a child who is more than simply Jesus. It is a body that is embodied with the Divine. Jesus is the Christ. The child born in a human body is the Christ – the Anointed one – the one coming to judge the world and in doing so setting the course for the world’s salvation.
The Christmas story is the continuing embodiment of all creation by the self-revelation of the Godhead. The incarnation began with the first moment of creation when God imagined a world and created it – not from anything but as a means of empowering the self-determining evolution and the expression of the Godhead in the world.
Thomas Merton writes: “A tree gives glory to God by being a tree. For in being what God means it to be it is obeying [God]. It “consents,” so to speak, to [God’s] creative love. It is expressing an idea which is in God and which is not distinct from the essence of God, and therefore a tree imitates God by being a tree”.
The body of a tree is the imitation of the body of God. Within in that body is the essence of the Godhead in all its tree-y fullness just as we find in the Christ the essence of the fullness of the Godhead.
That is not found in the body of Jesus as human but in Christ as the promised or anointed one who will bring judgement and abundance into the world. To reduce the Christmas story to the birthday of Jesus is an anathema to the Gospel and to the centuries of prophecy proceeding this day. In the same way, reducing children, our children, to the means of our salvation is an anathema to the sovereignty of their being.
Children are not to be seen as the means to saving ourselves from our own missed opportunities, shortcoming and failures. Giving stuff in all its forms at the altar of childhood will not save us nor will our children. They will be ordinary human beings in fragile human bodies, engaged in a process of self revelation that has no particular space for our salvation. Nor should they.
Mary is our example here. She neither protests nor rejoice at all that is said about her son. She simply ponders it, sits with out, watches and observes. She does not speak her hopes or personal desires for the child, but simply takes it all in and sits with it. She takes her hands off Jesus and allows what will be to be. Throughout the Gospels that is her position – on the edge of Jesus life – supportive but not controlling or directing – sometimes confused but always present.
She recognises her boy has his own life to live – a bodily life with all the trappings of such a life including circumcision, hunger, pain, loss, sorry, joy and loneliness. She recognises that what is held within this body is more than one who will save her personally, but one who will follow his own deep understanding of self.
We share this idea of body with Jesus and with the Christ.
We share the physicality of a body that engages with the world in which we live our ordinary lives. We also share the immense possibility of the Divine Christ and, if we are, in some way, the self expression of God, like the trees, we are capable of expressing an idea which is in God and which is not distinct from the essence of God, and therefore we imitate God by being ourselves”.
As we celebrate this Christmas, let us not reduce this event to the a birthday party for a little middle eastern boy, nor allow this story of a child born to judge us become the story of children born to save us. This is the story of the Christ come to judge the world and who, through our relationship with him, asks us to be that judgement.