Incarnation

What child is this who’s laid to rest on Mary’s lap is sleeping?

When I was little and full of Christmas anticipation, this child served as a reason for me to get lots of presents and perform in the annual nativity pageant. I enjoyed being an angel, a sheep, not so much, but the year I was cast as Herod’s wife, wow. The flowing garments and the exotic make-up I got to wear as a twelve year old overshadowed any consideration of who Christ was because I was beautiful!

As I grew older, Christmas holidays were family time and to give back to my parents by giving gifts in quantities they’d given me.

As a young wife and mother, I willingly sacrificed myself to the flurry of decorations, preparation of special foods and, of course, gift giving. I was intent upon providing my kids with the perfect Christmas with which I had grown up. Christmases which required stress before and after once the January credit card bill arrived.

Who is this child?

Over the years, stress has drowned out the answer. Gifts have to be made. The cards have to be written and mailed on time. Decorations need sorting and hanging. Once the children moved out, I had to prepare for their annual Christmas visit with their families. I had no time to give thought to the child in Mary’s lap.

Who is this child?

Phil 2:5-8: “… Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, … made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness as men… He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.”

In the ‘Incarnation of the Word”, St. Athanasius says Christ “put on a body that he may find death in the body and blot it out”. This is reflected in the icon of the nativity where the babe’s swaddling clothes foreshadow his burial shroud and the manger, his burial cave.

This child was born to die so all of us might live and become who we are meant to be.

This is the magic of Christmas.

For one month of the year, despite the worldly cacophonous materialism, the presence of this child’s quiet, gentle, underlying love stirs people of all beliefs into becoming a blessing to others. People fill food hampers, volunteer at soup kitchens, give money to those in need and smile at strangers. Christmas movies depict jaded people going through a life changing experience and learning to love and embrace others (a la Scrooge).

For one month of the year, we catch a glimpse of the divine, of the world as it could be filled with God’s peace, love and joy, and we can taste the perfection we earnestly desire.

Recently, my family decided to give gifts only to the children, and to hold family reunions in the summer. Personally, my Christmas season has become much more relaxed knowing everyone is safe in their homes and I have only myself to prepare for the birth of this child. I no longer participate in the frenetic flurry of shopping and doing for others until December 26, when I can carefully wrap the baby up, gently place Him in the cupboard with the other ornaments and thankfully sigh ‘that’s another Christmas over with’.

Who is this child?

He is what I can become.

Christ entered the world as this child and grew to manhood and perfect humanity. Spiritually, I am born into the self-centeredness of infancy, gradually become aware of others, then, ideally, enter the self sacrifice of adulthood and completion of my humanity.

Christmas, as with all births, is only a beginning. If I allow it, Christmas is with me year round. I am part of the body of Christ, the incarnation of God on earth. This child is born into my heart, growing and leading me into service to others and self denial. This child lives in me while I journey towards becoming the perfect human being I was meant to be. Like this child, I was born to die, as everyone is and like this child, I can live in eternal love.

Blessed Nativity.

Is arguing theology worth it?

I’ve spent a lot of time over the years discussing theology and have recently concluded… there is no point.

Orthodox means ‘right beliefs’, but right beliefs don’t necessarily translate into right action.

James 2:19 says “You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.”

The demons have right beliefs, even Satan knows the truth about God, but what do they do with the knowledge? And that’s where the rubber hits the road, so to speak. I could read every theology book there is, I could get a PhD in theology, I could discuss theology and teach theology, but it will not do me one iota of good if I don’t live theology.

After all, Saul was a student o Gameliel, he studied and he knew all here was to know about the messiah according to the Jewish scriptures. If studying and learning about God can lead someone to the full knowledge of God then not only Saul but all the students of the Mosaic Law should have recognized Jesus as soon as He made himself known, but they didn’t.

Those who readily recognized Christ for who He was often the lowly, the humble, the unlearned, those who had to rely upon their neighbours, their family, their community for their existence. He was recognized by those who knew the people around them were important.

Saul, despite all his learning, didn’t know Christ until he was struck blind on the road. Humbled, he had to accept the assistance of others in order to live, the very others he was trying to find and kill.

Too often, knowledge leads to pride and pride always stands between us and God because it stands between us and others. When this happens, often God will allow something life changing to happen leaving the formerly prideful to rely on others for help. Kind of like a heavenly slap upside the head.

Learning from, and teaching, others is part of my journey to becoming human. But how I do it will determine the success of that journey. Do I express myself in pride and arrogance; ‘listen to me because I know more than you’ or do I share in humility; ‘these are the mistakes I’ve made and the lessons I’ve learned, if you would like to hear them’.

Arguing and debating, especially about the things of God does not convince anyone. More often than not, these things play right into the enemy’s hands by causing strife, grief and broken relationships. I know, I have lost the good will of many people over the years trying to beat them over the head with theological arguments.

Despite the accepted definition of Theology as the study of beliefs about deity, theology literally means the study of God; “Theo” meaning God and ‘ology’ meaning ‘study of’. I need to study God and not just beliefs about Him. I study God by getting to know Him, by drawing closer to Him, by eliminating the things that get between me and Him.

The only way to truly get to know God is to constantly be in His presence. The apostles spent three years with Christ, living with Him, eating with Him and observing how He treated others. It wasn’t until after Christ’s resurrection that they fully understood they were travelling towards the Kingdom and they were commissioned to bring others with them using the same methods Christ used, forgiveness, love and humility.

Even though I was born two thousand years after Christ walked this earth, I can also live in God’s presence. God’s grace is all around me in creation, let me treat it with respect and gratitude. The image of God is within every person, let me recognize Him and love each person He brings to me. God’s presence fills the church during a service. His life is in the Eucharist. The words of the hymns and psalms wash over me teaching me more theology than any book.

This is how I can live in God’s presence, by being present in the Church. This is how I can proclaim the gospel, by loving others. This is how I can become living theology, by striving to become fully human.