By Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal
We all enjoy reading the infancy narratives in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. They lend a vibrant sense of time and place to the events of Jesus’ birth, describing intimate details like Mary and Joseph’s desperation, and Herod’s paranoia.
However, from a theological perspective the central phrase of the Christmas season comes from the latest and most obscure of the gospels, specifically John 1:14: “And the word became flesh, and dwelt among us.”
When asked why we celebrate Christmas, most Sunday school children can rattle off a good answer: “Because that’s when Jesus was born.”
That’s true, of course, but the idea of the son of God becoming a human being needs some unpacking, and it took Christianity centuries to explain just how it happened.
I sat next to a guy on plane once and when he saw my theology book he started talking about his Christian faith.
“This is just a flesh suit, as far as I’m concerned,” he told me.
Besides being a disgusting metaphor, that’s bad – awful – theology. It implies that the body is inconsequential when it comes our salvation. One is left to wonder why God would bother giving us a body at all. That position trivializes Christmas.
We have to be careful not to think of Jesus as a god who just wore a flesh suit for 33 years.
Early in Christian history a heretical group called the Docetists believed that Jesus was a divine being who only appeared to be human. He was cleverly fooling everyone because his humanity was just a disguise.
Another group of heretics were the Nestorians. While they acknowledged that Jesus was both human and divine, they also believed that those two aspects of his being were completely separate. Jesus was a schizoid being, like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Theologically orthodox Christians have always maintained that Jesus was fully human and fully God, and that those two parts of his existence coincided side-by-side in a mutually affective relationship.
This idea is unique among world religions, and anathema to some.
Christmas is a reflection upon the great mystery of how this human-divine relationship came about.
Perhaps a key to understanding this apparent impossibility is to see humanity and divinity as intimately related, to see one as implying the other.
It’s nice to think of God as overabundant love that cannot contain itself. God’s love spills over and in doing so creates an “other” that is a dialogue partner.
Above all creatures, humans are the species capable of hearing the word of God and responding. They are ready-made receptors of God’s self-communication.
In Bethlehem, Jesus became the call and the response. In a singular event of human childbirth, God created and fully embraced his creation in the most completely realized human ever born.
Each year we hear people asking, “What are we really celebrating?,” and “Why do we do the things we do?” Perhaps the act of asking is precisely the point.
Humans are the question to which God is the answer, and each year we celebrate the wonderful day upon which this became known to us.
Contact Daily Journal religion editor Galen Holley at 678-1510 or firstname.lastname@example.org.