When I think about Christmas and the meaning of the birth of Jesus, I am afraid it is easy for me to get into a bit of a whirlwind of ideas about what is so wonderful. I think I have always been fascinated by the world of ideas. This makes the fashioning of a Christmas Day message all the more difficult. My primary question is:
Of all the things that I could talk about, what is it that we need to hear today?
Whether we like it or not, the Christmas and Easter stories both bring into stark contrast the humanity and divinity of Jesus – and this is perhaps the one unique dimension of Christianity among the world’s many religions. And these two things are the hardest things for us to keep in perspective.
We have the vulnerable child born in an outhouse
We see the whole cosmos – stars and divine messengers – acknowledging his birth.
There is an ancient name that was said to sum up tis child’s place on earth – Emmanuel which means “God with us.”
In this child, God has stepped out of his omni-everything to become one of us.
In this child God experienced humanity just as we experience it – with all its pain and uncertainty.
In this child God shows us a way of living that leads to a renewal of life. I think this is what the little quote from Bishop Wright means:
“The whole point of what Jesus was up to was that he was doing close up, in the present, what he was promising long-term in the future. And what he was promising for that future and doing in the present was (about …) rescuing people from the corruption and decay of the way the world presently is so they could enjoy, already in the present, that renewal of creation which is God’s ultimate purpose – and so they could thus become colleagues and partners in that large project.”
I think this is what Jesus was pointing to when he said “I am the Way!” He is pointing us towards a new way of living that turns upside down all those standards by which we might naturally choose to live – like “love your enemies; and pray for those who persecute you.” Living this way is so transformative that it looks to others like we have been rescued from the corruption and decay that normally besets our humanity.
Last week we saw evidence of some people breaking away from this power of corruption and decay in ways that can only be God-breathed.
On Monday last, while a terrible siege was being acted out in Sydney, a woman noticed another passenger on her train, a Muslim woman, discreetly removing her hijab, a clear symbol of her declaration of faith in Islam. The women got up the courage to speak to the Muslim stranger and found out that the Muslim woman was afraid of being vilified by Aussies because of that a clearly deranged Muslim man was doing.
So the Australian woman said she would travel with her if she was afraid, and this was the beginning of a turnaround in everyday values in Australia. Where once the stranger was vilified, now a “mate” was being protected from idiots. People have used the hashtag #IllRideWithYou to declare their intention to overcome fear.
For those of us advocating for a more compassionate response to the aliens among us through our refugee policies, the positive traction this got was a real surprise – a pleasant surprise.
Somehow, I think it reached into a very deeply held “Aussie” value of mateship. The idea of this is that if your mate is doing it tough, you stand alongside them, you help them out. Our national mythology says this was forged a hundred years ago in the trenches of war in Turkey and Europe. I am not sure about that. Somehow I think it goes deeper than that, and perhaps is not so idiosyncratic to Australia as we like to think it is.
In reflecting on this a number of Christians have observed that the coming of Jesus was God’s ultimate #IllRideWithYou declaration. I think this is a good idea to take home today as a Christmas Gift from God.
What this means is that there is nothing, absolutely nothing, in our human experience that our God, whom some call the Source of our being, has not already experienced just like us.
Our God seemed to understand that a relationship with us based on us reaching out from our humanity to attain something of the divine was destined to failure – people wouldn’t be able to do it.
So our God chose to come to us from the divine realm into our humanity and in doing so he has created a Way that we can all succeed in – a way of being in relationship with God – in Jesus.