Ready for the Christ
The Rectory, January 1998
Christmas is over but the incarnation of God continues. The celebration of Christmas concentrates on the story of the birth of Christ. We recall and re-tell the story of the angels, the shepherds and the Kings. These events are the subject of every school nativity play and they are represented on many of the Christmas cards we have received. Heard from childhood, it is a story that still has the power to fill us with a sense of wonder and beauty. For a moment the magic has returned, the hope of peace and love filling the earth been glimpsed again, but January plunges us back into reality. The January sales arrive! Its back to work or school or college. Friends and family get back to their busy occupations and the less active can feel a bit abandoned. The story is packed away with the cards, the presents and the decorations to await another year.
But within the story is an eternal truth that is never packed away and has changed our human life forever. The Word became flesh as St John, who at this point preferred poetry to story, puts it at the beginning of the gospel that bears his name. This becoming flesh, becoming human, was not a mere cloak or disguise, nor a temporary expedient to fulfil a mission on earth. It is the union of God with humankind. It is the human and the divine eternally one, never to be separated or torn apart. This incredible truth about the humility of God and the wonder of who we have become is the true joy of Christmas - and it is true now, for you and me and every human being, not just for the babe of Bethlehem two thousand years ago. The Word became flesh refers to your flesh and my flesh, your humanity and mine and those who share this planet with us. The Divine is relocated in a sense and, if we allow Gods initiative and his process in us, we too are being "Christed", if I can invent a word for the incarnation in us.
The challenge of Christmas is to become part of the process of Gods incarnation in the world - for the Word to become flesh in us. Jesus gave himself up to this process - and we see in the gospels its outworking in his transfiguration, his suffering and his resurrection. We like the ending, as it were, but are fearful of the process - and that may be the reason that we too easily pack Christmas back into its box each year. It is disturbing to learn that we have a capacity for the divine, disturbing that God has demonstrated his "yes" to our flesh, our deepest selves, and that we are part of this holy mystery.
The story of the birth of Jesus is filled with just such denials as we utter within ourselves. Who am I that the Lord should come to me? asked Elizabeth. How can this be? asked Mary. Yet if I can find the courage to trust God, to believe that Christ might become enfleshed in feeble me, then I may be on the way to knowing the greatness of God and to recognising the incarnate Christ in the person of others and in the wonder of creation.
Let me end with a quote from Thomas Merton: