Last night we heard the classic story of Mary and Joseph and their trip to Bethlehem. We heard about the Angels and the Shepherds, and we heard about the young baby Jesus being born in a stable. This is the story we sing about, the story of a baby born in a stable, lying in a manger.
It is a story about the cold political power of the elite that cares only about counting how many people and how much money it has control over. It is a story about indifference that would leave a pregnant woman to give birth to a child outside in a stable. It is a story of good news to those outside of society. The shepherds who spend their nights outside the city gates, with only their flocks and each other for company, these forgotten men who wander the hillsides, they are the ones who get visited by angels, and have no choice but to go and see this miracle child for themselves. They did not understand fully what they were seeing that night. They knew the baby was special because the angels told them so, and they were amazed by what they had experienced that night, but how could they really comprehend who this little baby was? Mary, as she looked down at her son, she alone would hold the shepherds’ story in her heart and wonder at what it all really meant, but could she really understand, could anyone?
The story of Jesus’ birth is a very human story told from a human perspective. But there is another perspective, a perspective that can never really be understood because it is not a human perspective.
So today we pull way back, back before Mary becomes pregnant, back before King David or Abraham were born, back before men walked the earth at all, before the world began, before the universe even existed. Back before there was time. We even go back before there were angels or heaven. Today we go all the way back to the very beginning.
Back then there was God.
And that is all we can really say because God by God’s self is completely beyond our human comprehension, beyond the descriptive ability of our language. But God chose to create, we know that much. And God spoke creation into being. ‘Let there be light’ and there was light. He spoke the earth and the stars into existence and everything that is on the earth. And he spoke us into existence too. God’s Word, God’s creative force, God’s very expression of God’s self, not separate from God, but God entirely and completely, this is who was born to Mary, wrapped in swaddling bands and laid in a manger almost two thousand years ago. God.
In Christ the unimaginable, the incomprehensible becomes visible. We do not need to speculate about who God is (though I’m sure we will continue to do so) all we need to know about God is shown to us in Jesus, and through the lens of Christ we are better able to recognize God when we see him in the people and the world around us.
We are amazed at God’s willingness to lower himself, to reach down and bind himself to human flesh. We marvel at this because we think of it as something God does in-spite of himself, but the true marvel is that God reaches downward towards us because that is God’s nature. In Jesus God’s love is revealed, not as some distant cold love but love that is personal and tangible, Love that gives of itself completely. This is what perfection really looks like; this is who God is. And this is the image that we were made in.
Jesus shows us God in his divinity, but in his humanity Jesus shows us who we are too. In Christ we see what it means to be fully human. We see that our nature is not unlike God’s, to reach out from ourselves as God reached out; we are meant to love like God loves, not a cold theoretical sort of Love, but a relational love of sacrifice and self offering.
In Christ we can see where our true nature meets the nature of God. Christ is the true light, he does not just shed a spotlight on God, so that we might know our creator but came to shine a light on us as well, so that we might know ourselves.
Saint Athanasius said “God became man so that man might become God”. Though I have read this statement a hundred times, and studied at length what it might mean, I am always surprised by it. It is an eye opening statement. Perhaps this is what is meant when John says, “to all who receive him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of the blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.” Our true belief is belief that does not just reside inside our heads, but flows through our veins and lives in our hearts, and most of all is expressed in our lives and uncovers in us who we truly are, who God made us to be.
I think perhaps there is this idea that striving to be like Christ is to try and be less human. But the truth is, the more like Christ we let ourselves be, the more human we become.
That is the miracle proclaimed to the shepherds, and the mystery pondered in Mary’s heart. That is the incarnation of God in this world, the miracle and mystery that we should always try to keep with us in our hearts and minds not just today but everyday. In Jesus, born a fragile human child, all that is truly God and all that is truly human is revealed to us. And for this we should sing to the Lord a new song, for he has surely done marvelous things!