This time of year, Christian minds quickly go to a baby in a manger. But we also are invited to contemplate an astounding idea: The true nature of what is within the child.
Last week, I mentioned that if you accept that Simeon saw the face of God when gazing upon the baby Jesus, then you understand a central tenet of Christianity. Jesus is God among us, God taking on flesh in order to be among his creation and, ultimately, to save his creation from sin and death.
The opening of the Gospel of John takes this idea and runs with it. As we read it, we are asked to put aside notions of time and space and understand the godly essence of Jesus has always existed and always will exist.
We are told there is an an aspect of God we can think of as “the Word.” When we see God as creative, as life-giving, we are seeing the Word. In Greek it is logos, which we also might translate as “truth” or “reason,” if we trust some of the meaning ancient Greek philosophers read into the concept.
This high-minded notion of creativity, truth and reason existing beyond space and time—indeed, making space and time—is overwhelming to try to grasp. My head hurts just trying to think about it. And yet, in all of this, there also is love. And God loves his little human creations so much that this endless aspect of God, this Word, concentrated and shrank himself enough to inhabit flesh.
That is what Christmas is about, by the way. The Word inhabited flesh.
When you begin to get this notion of the Word walking among us, a lot of Jesus’ miracles make more sense. Of course the loaves and the fishes were superabundant; the aspect of God that made every fish and every grain of wheat that ever existed was present.
Of course he could heal a man born blind, even though no one had ever heard of such a miracle. A little spit and dirt mixed into a mud, and voilà, new eyes. The aspect of God that made every eye that had ever existed was present.
Of course Jesus rose from the dead, made indestructible. The battered body contained the inventor of life, and he would not be restrained.
To ease the theological headaches we sometimes get from such big thoughts, we also have this notion of Jesus being the “Son of God,” an idea we also see reflected in the Gospel of John. I’ve seen people struggle with this, taking the phrase too literally, saying, “No, Jesus isn’t God, Jesus is the Son of God.” But we have to remember, we call Jesus “Son of God” as a reminder that a new being was created in Mary’s womb, one fully divine but bearing human flesh.
Saying “Son of God” also makes our lives a little easier; the idea is simpler to grasp. It is hard to talk about Jesus in the high-flying language of John’s first chapter all the time.
The beauty of Christianity is that while we’re invited to stretch our minds, to exercise our imaginations, no great leaps of thinking are required for a relationship with God. Theologians can spend a lifetime studying Christology, but at the same time, a child, through simple belief, can be saved and brought into a relationship with God through Christ.
John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Belief is enough.
As you contemplate the baby in the manger this year, may your Christmas be merry, and may your visions of God be magnificent.