Christmas controversies are nothing new and in fact we almost expect them to happen. From town councils renaming the festive season 'Happy Holidays' or 'Winterfest' to the banning of candlelit carol services on health and safety grounds. They are all part of the Christmas fare served up in Western Europe in the 21st century.
What image does Christmas normally conjure up? For most people in Ireland it is a babe lying in a manger while Mary and Joseph, the angels, the shepherds, the wise men and the stable animals all look on. It is a very heart-warming picture of the birth of Christ Jesus. Jesus in swaddling clothes, Mary dressed in blue and the star shining brightly overhead.
But Christmas is much more than the airbrushed picture on the front of a Christmas card. It is about the Incarnation: God Himself, the Creator of heaven and earth, the ultimate reality, becoming flesh. John 1.1-14, a text proclaimed and preached each Christmas, announces that God becomes flesh and dwells among us. The Lutheran maxim that the finite bears the infinite (finitum capax infiniti) is an incarnational and sacramental summary of this good news. Indeed the good news is that the Word became flesh. Through the Word, God creates the world and in the Word all things hold together.
During Christmas, Christians rejoice that God so loved the world that Infinite Grace embraces the finite. Take a moment and think of the reality of God taking on flesh. The Christmas card image lessens the impact of that reality. It sanitises the most significant moment in history. Mary was young and expecting a baby. Her husband, Joseph, wasn't the father of the child his wife was carrying. If you read Matthew's lineage of Christ it isn't sanitised, with a prostitute named in the line for starters. The truth is the reality of the Incarnation does not fit in with the cosy theology that permeates much of our Church of Ireland. As human beings we live in an agonising, messy, complicated world and it is into this world that God became flesh and dwells among us.
In John 3: 16 we read the purpose of the Incarnation: "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life" (NIV). God became flesh to save us from our sins and by His grace give us eternal life. The Christmas message is emasculated if it does not include Good Friday and Easter Day. Without the Cross and the Resurrection of Christ the babe in the manger is just another little boy born into poverty in the 1st Century in the Middle East. It is when we lift our eyes from the manger and turn to that same baby as a grown man hanging on a cross that we realise the immensity of the love which became flesh for our sakes. We realise that Christmas is not really that cosy after all but a shocking revelation of the love of God. This little baby will one day divide families, challenge religious authorities and ultimately decide the eternal destiny of all peoples.
This Christmas as we celebrate the birth of the Saviour we do so in the sure and certain knowledge that in Christ Jesus alone God took on flesh and dwelt amongst us. This Christmas we praise God for His love for us that sent His Son to die for our sins and to take on Himself the punishment that we deserve. We humbly bow before Christ Jesus, confessing our sins and unworthiness, receiving His gracious gift of salvation and committing ourselves to holiness of life in obedience to His Word. This Christmas we pray that the good news of the Incarnation will not only be read in our Church of Ireland but heard and believed. We pray that the greatest gift, God's one and only Son, will not be discarded along with the decorations and the wrappings but dwell in all our hearts by faith.
God bless as we celebrate the birth of our Saviour Jesus Christ.
15th Dec 2008