Well, we are nearly upon the eve of Christmas 2006, so I shall return to the blogosphere to give a small reflection for my non-existent readership. (Oh yes, I am aware that this is my fault. I need to establish an aggressive blog promotion plan and update policy for 2007. I suppose there are consultants out there for that somewhere...) Anyway, I think it would be very appropriate to reflect today on the meaning of Christmas and what it means to appropriate the "spirit of Christmas" throughout all of the year, as Chuck Dickens suggests in his classic A Christmas Carol.
We begin with a question of prime importance: "Who is Jesus of Nazareth?" I believe that this question has only two possible answers. You will have to excuse what you may perceive to be irreverence. I do not believe my thoughts on this to be such but instead to be brutally truthful. Without any additional circumlocution, the following are the two possible answers to the question, "Who is Jesus of Nazareth?":
1) A radical Jew who, in addition to being a "nice guy" was a complete lunatic who thought he was God. He preached a good message, but things have been a bit weird for 2000 years because he had this latent schizophrenia.
2) Emmanuel, God-With-Us, the Incarnate Word which undergirds all creation, is its source, and final destination, its Omega Point. He is the Kingdom of God among us.
Christianity chooses the latter and builds itself upon Faith in this choice. Now, we must seriously ask ourselves, in both cases, is there reason to celebrate Christmas, or is such celebration only relegated to the latter case?
I believe that it is possible in both cases to celebrate the birth, but do not think that it would be celebrated if the consensus were for the former case. If you consider all the great moral teachers, national figures, and social liberators in history, none has garnered such support for birthday celebration as Jesus the Christ. I therefore posit with 100% confidence that it is only in light of those who hold on to the latter belief that anyone else can celebrate Christ under presupposition number one. The continued belief is only possible when Christ’s divinity is believed to be reality. Otherwise, humanity will wax and wane, kind of like it does with President's Day, or the ever-so-popular Flag Day. In both those cases, the holiday is barely celebrated because there is a degree of "eh, so what" that goes through everyone's mind. Indeed, poor Lincoln or The Stars and Strips cannot make people accept gifts like Santa sweaters and fruitcakes year after year with a smile (albeit a sometimes forced smile). It takes a holiday that has something to do with Truth, Love, Beauty, and Goodness to make us endure things year after year of our own volition. (Aside: We are forgetting that the 4th of July is about the Truth and are therefore destroying that noble American holiday. Alas and Alack, this is not the place for such reflections. Let us continue without further adieu!)
Now, with this in mind, we realize that the ontological status of Jesus is the primary motivating fact for the continued celebration of His birth. Why is it important that God became man, and therefore, why is His birth upon earth to be celebrated? The answer: The Cross and the Resurrection. Alright, let's step through this one, though, before we start sounding like atonement-only theologians and take all the beauty out of the Cross. (I have a deep-set dislike for those who would portray the cross as the action of a pissed off God who wanted to have someone to "smash" for the sins of the world.)
What is the Cross but self-sacrifice to God for the sake of humanity? Christ goes readily to the Cross, embracing it as his action. He flinches, indeed asks for it to be taken away from him. However, in the end, this fear of the suffering to come is that which truly allows humanity to be submitted to God fully, through all reservations and fears. It is Christ who says, "remove this chalice from me; but not what I will, but what thou wilt" (Mark 14.36). To walk the fearful way of the Cross without losing faith is to unite oneself to God, to trust, and hence -- in union -- to Love, for Love is unity, it is (in the words of Aristotle) "a single soul inhabiting two bodies." Therefore, the Cross is nothing more than the story of Jesus' love for the Father, a love which raises humanity up, recapitulates Creation by means of humanity. The source of Love, God, comes to Creation to lift the vehicle of Love, humanity, to it's true end, union -- not only by means of love but with Love itself. The vehicle is given the gift of becoming that which it carries.
It is this union which allows for the Resurrection. The Cross is meaningless without the Resurrection, for the Resurrection is the affirmation of the power of Love. "He is risen" (cf. Mark 16.6) and "The Father has raised Him" (Cf. Galations 1.1). The two phrases refer to the same ontological and relational truth, namely that it is by means of the reciprocally shared love between the Father and the Son that the Resurrection is possible. Christ's love for the Father allows him to rise and it is the eternal Father's love which sustains and “holds” the Son through even death. Therefore, the Resurrection is nothing more than the historical event which proves that Love is stronger than death, that love overcomes all, even the physical cessation of life. The Cross and the Resurrection are inseparable events, dependent upon and drawing their strength from the power of Love.
Now, have we just hopped aboard Matt's ADD expressway or are we coming to the crux of the matter (no pun intended!)? Let us draw the story together. The very life of Christ is animated by His Cross and Resurrection, for that is self-giving love which ultimately unites humanity to God. Through our loving union with Him, we can become brothers of the Son. (Ultimately, this is why the Eucharist, as understood in Anglican/Catholic/Orthodox/Lutheran circles is of absolute importance, for it is true ontological union. Indeed, the only proof that is needed for the Eucharist is the answer to this question: If God is Love, would he not allow for direct union with that Incarnate Love that sustains humanity even through death? Nonetheless, this is a different subject for another day. We will perhaps treat it in another entry!)
Alright, so the life of Christ draws its commission and driving force from the power of His Love which is fully actualized on the Cross and proven by the Resurrection. Well, that's great and is something that should rightfully be celebrated. However, why is it the birth that must be celebrated and not just the Cross/Resurrection? Well, for this, we must back up 9 months before Christmas to the Annunciation and conception of Christ. We could bicker about the historical significance of the virginal-birth narratives. However, no matter what your tenor, if you believe proposition number two above, then you must believe the following without reserve. The act of God's incarnation in Jesus of Nazareth is not the product of human choice but is instead fully the act of God. Jesus is indeed the only human being to choose His own birth at the "fullness of time" (Cf. Galatians 4.4-7) and does so in order to bring the fullness of Love to humanity.
Therefore, today we celebrate Love which chooses its own genesis, knowing the pain and suffering concomitant with its birth and life. On this Christmas we celebrate the warmness of God's embrace as He chose to walk among us and die to Himself so that our humanity may be divinized. That is the warm-and-fuzzy message of Christmas. However, that is not the commission given to believers on Christmas, for the embrace of God is something not taken easily without Love which requires death to self.
While it may at first seem somewhat depressing, we must see the commission of Christmas not in the manger but in the confluent event of Manger-Cross-Resurrection, the entire life of Jesus. The Nativity teaches us that it is right and proper to be apostles of Love, and that means that each day must be seen as a choice for the genesis of love. Each day is a nativity in so far as we choose to appropriate for our own lives the spirit of the Cross, of chosen self-death to others and, ultimately to the Father through Christ, empowered by the Spirit of Love. Therefore, Christmas is the open invocation to make Love our own, but Love is not an easy affair. It is humble enough to lay in a manger, selfless enough to have no place of rest, zealous enough to wander upon the roads of ancient Palestine, so untiring that it ceaselessly heals the sick and feeds the poor, and submissive to the point of Crucifixion. Love demands all; it requires that no barrier be left, no stone unconverted in our hearts, no possible wound be prevented on account of fear.
Now, this is somewhat of a somber look at the Love which Christmas requires of each of us. My goodness, it is quite daunting to think of this warm holiday which is so cheerful while looking toward the Crucifixion. Indeed, one may want me to stop and leave that for Good Friday, for that seems to be the proper place for thoughts about the Crucifixion. However, such Love as Christmas requires can only end with resurrection and ultimately the Resurrection. Every cross has its resurrection, every pain is answered by the realization that we are held in Love more tightly, that we no longer are our own but are instead united in the very motion of all Creation: singularly united Being which finds its point of coalescence in our Alpha and Omega, Jesus Christ, Love Incarnate, the humble Babe of Bethlehem.
My friend, I thank you for your time and for all you do for the world. May the graces of the Christmas Season set your heart on fire with Love for God, humanity, and all of Creation. God chose to become man so that humanity could be raised to the Godhead through the Love of the Cross. May that Love be yours now and forever, and may we venture together into 2007, united in Love.
God bless you and all of yours. Enjoy your Christmas!
- Matthew Kenneth Minerd
December 24, 2006