THE TONY CROSS COLUMN
Article No. 154
A meditation for Christmas
- I in them and You in Me - John 17.23
Christmas is when we celebrate the entry of God into human life. He was with us before and after the Christmas event, but Christmas is the special time when we celebrate the fullness of God’s identification with us. To enter human experience by assuming human personality, with all its frightening limitations and possibilities - to become human and be a newborn infant - that is identification way beyond anything that anyone had ever imagined.
We cannot understand, with our poor finite minds, how the infinite can enter the finite. It makes no sense to us because it is beyond our comprehension.- but we now believe that it happened. How did we ever get to this point of belief?
Well, it happened in an upside down sort of way. It started with the impact that Jesus made on all who saw him, and especially on his disciples. Those courageous souls who threw in their lot with this iterant preacher and teacher. They saw him day by day over a period of a few years. They saw how he reacted to disappointments, how he reacted to the adulation of the crowds. How he faced the Roman interrogation, how he faced and endured death by torture - for that is what the flogging and the crucifixion amounted to. They saw too the resurrected Jesus - the Master alive after death - who was the same yet different. They listened to what he said, watched him eat a meal. They grew to expect his presence with them, whether they could see him or not.
And when they were dispersed from Jerusalem, at some point in the forty year gap between the crucifixion and the utter destruction of Jerusalem, they learned that he went with them wherever they went.
It was their experiences, their new found belief in the Risen Christ, their realization that all Jesus had taught was evidence of how very special a person he had been - all of this led them to the conclusion that they had to describe Jesus as more than just a man. He was a leader, yes. A rabbi/teacher, yes. A friend - yes. All of this and yet still there was something extra that they could not quantify, nor explain to anyone’s satisfaction.
Eventually Christians came to the realisation that the only explanation they could give lay in saying that he was man but also more than a man - he was God in man - God incarnate. Not God pretending to be a human, for the Jesus they had known was a really and truly a man. They had no doubt about that. No, it was not God pretending to be a human - a sham. Nor was he disguised as a human - a pretence. But truly a human being. yet somehow also God.
And so, within a few decades, men who never knew Jesus, had never seen him, became convinced that Jesus the man was also God. The idea was developed and refined over the next several hundred years, but it started at the beginning and grew out of the experience of those early Christians who were at a loss to explain how Jesus could be a man yet do what he had done.
But if Jesus was God - what did that mean? The implications were mind boggling. It meant, for example that God let men crucify him. How could that be? It could only be explained as a huge example of self sacrifice. Man on the throne and God on the Cross. What sort of God is that?
But also it must have meant that God became incarnate from the very beginning of the life of Jesus - from his birth right through to his death. The natural cycle of birth, life and death of a human being. He must have been incarnate in the womb. Conceived by the Holy Spirit - God creating God incarnate - a mystery! And then, through nine long months, carried in the womb - listening to the muffled sound of voices, the sound of music. And then - birth! God being born into human existence - as a wee baby. Could it be?
How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given.
Humanity gifted with a God-child who had come to live out a human life with all its emergencies and joys, all its problems and troubles.
All embodied in that one sleeping baby that first Christmas.
There are those who discount the stories that surround Christmas. The stories of wise men following a star, and the story of shepherds hearing angels and coming to the crib to worship. Only in two of the gospels, they say, wisely. Well, whether those stories are true or whether they are what tradition has given us, what is completely and irrevocably true is that Jesus was born a baby just like any other child. He lay in a rough cot and cried and was fed and slept and then cried again. Like any other child.
That is the wonder of Christmas. We know, beyond a peradventure, that our God became incarnate in a baby they called Jesus. It is the only explanation for all that happened subsequently. It is the only way that goes even half way towards an explanation. And when all is said and done, it is a mystery.
And today? Today we have learned, and it has been ‘proved’ in countless lives that the Lord God Almighty incarnate in Jesus is available to each one of us - yes, even us. Not in a rough cot but in our inner experience. An experience that can start in any one of many different ways. Dramatically, as in lightning on a roadway to Damascus, or quietly, over time, as in growing conviction and faith. However it starts, it develops day by day as we give it permission and foster its growth, through all the vagaries of our normal human life. We become sure beyond a peradventure that the Spirit of the Lord is with us - lives in us. That the Spirit of Christ is truly with us in all our experiences of life. Is supporting us, encouraging us, helping us, guiding us.
And even more - we come to see that, as the Living Christ is in us, so are we in Christ. That wonderful phrase invented by St Paul - In Christ - so precisely accurate of the experience of countless Christians down the ages.
Why should we be surprised? It is what Jesus said - do you remember?
“..that they may be one just as We are one. I in them and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.
[John 17. 22b-3]
Have a wonderful Christmas!
And, as they say, a happy New Year to all our readers.