Peter Espeut | Christmas: The elevation of humanity
You would never know it, but today is the fourth day of Christmas (‡ la the song The Twelve Days of Christmas. The stores have taken down their Christmas trees and the radio stations stopped playing Christmas carols on Boxing Day because for them, Christmas is about buying and selling, and the promotion of same. But to those for whom Christmas is a religious season, the celebration is just the beginning.
I was tickled when I read in the Christmas editorial of this newspaper: "Thinking about it, the Christmas story seems quite implausible." Things are looking up when the Gleaner editor applies his brainpower to matters religious.
"God decides to send His son to earth so that He can die, by way of execution, to ensure a path to redemption, until the end of mortal time, for humanity that has fallen afoul of His law. So, He orchestrates the human birth of Jesus Christ by having the Holy Ghost impregnate a young virgin, Mary, whose husband, Joseph, stands by her, understanding the divinity of the mission and the grace of circumstance." (Note the capital pronouns; there is hope for my editor after all!)
In this paragraph, the Gleaner editor captures the deep theological significance of the Christmas event: that, to quote St John, "The Word became flesh, and dwelt amongst us" (John 1:14). That divinity should take on humanity - that the Creator would become part of the creation - was so unthinkable - so implausible - that St Paul called it "a scandal to the Jews, and to the Gentiles foolishness" (1 Cor 1:23).
It remains - even today - a scandal to the Jews, because for them, divinity is "wholly other" than humanity. God becoming human is an oxymoron - a contradiction in terms. For the gentile Greek philosophers - like the secularists of today - the very idea of God is foolishness, never mind that the divine took on human flesh (incarnation).
The mysteries of the Christmas story have to be confronted and interrogated by each new generation, and rightly so!
The story begins at the beginning - in the Genesis - man and woman were created good, and lived in right relationship with God, each other, and the natural environment, but humanity used their faculty of free will to choose their own way, and the reign of evil and sin in the world began. Right relationships were destroyed, and humanity fell from grace, losing closeness with God; gender relations became adversarial, and the natural environment suffered. Humanity had to be bought back from the realm of sin and ushered into the realm of life.
LIFE-GIVING POWER OF BLOOD
Throughout the ages, humanity has recognised the life-giving power of blood. The logic of animal sacrifice is that the life-blood of animals is exchanged for deeper human life. The Hebrew people were saved from slavery in Egypt and the Angel of Death by the blood of a healthy Passover Lamb. For humanity to return to the original justice of right relationships, blood of a lamb really worthy had to be shed.
The basis of Christianity is that God provided his only son as the Lamb of God, worthy to be slain to take away the sin of the world.
But first, Jesus - through whom was made everything that was made (John 1:3) - had to empty himself of His divinity to become human (Phil 2:7) so that He could empty himself even of His humanity (Phil 2:8) to make it possible for humanity to inherit the fullness of life. And that is the logic of Christmas and Easter, the two great mysteries for Christians.
The fact that God became human elevates the status of humanity to an even higher plane than before the fall. And that is what we celebrate at Christmas: the beginning of the liberation of the human race.
A joyful Christmas to you all, and especially to the editor and staff of the Gleaner!
- Peter Espeut is an environmentalist and a theologian. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.