“Rome was a flea market of borrowed gods and conquered peoples, a bargain basement on two floors, earth and heaven, a mass of filth convoluted in a triple knot as in an intestinal obstruction. Dacians, Herulians, Scythians, Sarmatians, Hyperboreans, heavy wheels without spokes, eyes sunk in fat, sodomy, double chins, illiterate emperors, fish fed on the flesh of learned slaves. There were more people in the world than there have ever been since, all crammed into the passages of the Coliseum, and all wretched. And then, into this tasteless heap of gold and marble, He came, light and clothed in an aura, emphatically human, deliberately provincial, Galilean, and at that moment gods and nations ceased to be and man came into being – man the carpenter, man the plowman, man the shepherd with his flock of sheep at sunset, man who does not sound in the least proud, man thankfully celebrated in all the cradle songs of mothers and in all the picture galleries the world over.” – Boris Pasternak
Merry Christmas! Today is a special day: a day where thousands of yards of wrapping paper gives up its life and beauty to the tearing hands of children; a day where unable-to-cope family members lose themselves in their poison of choice; a day when consumerism is celebrated throughout the western world in a gorging upon new gadgets, tools, toys, clothes and other necessities. I am sounding cynical, and I don’t want to sound or to be that. I am only saddened by these facts, because of what Christmas started out as and what it could be again: a deep, human celebration of being human, of our limited lives and of our bodies and of moral courage in the face of oppression. Christmas was the story of liberation, and I want it to be again.
You cannot live the liberating story of Christmas without the person whose birth is the reason for the celebration, Jesus of Nazareth. A person who would later claim to be king of kings and lord of lords, that is, the incarnated person of God was born into the world not as a king or emperor or child of promise. He was born poor, forgotten, vulnerable, provincial. Jesus was born on the margins of society. This emphasises one of the breakthroughs seem in the incarnation of God into creaturely existence. Materiality is not a curse, but it is a state to be celebrated; that is, the human body is not evil or wicked, but a home to be celebrated, filled with joy and light and love. That he was born on the margins also declares that this is the fact for everyone. All persons are persons — no matter how small.
There would be no humanism without Jesus Christ. If we accept that God, the unmoved mover, the creator, the principle of all principles, the I am that I am, stepped into our world, inhabited our humanity, took on flesh, then humanism must follow.
Humanism must follow because as God becomes man, humanity might become like God. This is not to say that we can achieve what Adam and Eve failed to do, because they did not rely upon God, but in Christ, in the coming of Jesus, in his life and ministry, in his death and resurrection, Jesus provides the grace needed to enter into a deification — not becoming gods but becoming like God: full of mercy, truth, goodness and love. Humanism is a belief in the moral progress of humanity, and this is possible in the grace and love of God, as seen in the person of Jesus Christ.
This becoming like God, though, must never be seen as a denial of our materiality. Jesus became human, God stepped into our world. This also points to God’s desire to abide with creation — with the animals, the soil, the stars and everything made. Our bodies are not evil, but they capable of being the very presence of God in the world, as temples of the Holy Spirit. And when the day comes, when Jesus returns, it is a return. Heaven comes to earth, and the fullness of creation is experienced. This world has been declared good and beautiful and truth. And it will be made so again. Our lives and our bodies can bring that about, as we follow after God and live into the Kingdom of God.
So, merry Christmas! May we remember today that the world has changed. That humanity can be better than what we have been, because God has spoken and God’s Word has stepped into the world to abide with us, to die for us and to be raised so that we might all stand before the throne. May we embrace the radical God who takes on our humanity, not to condemn but to save. And may we celebrate our humanity, our embodiedness and our hope.