Christmas celebrates the birth of a child. Through faith this child who is born is recognised, by faith, as God-with-us.
by The Rt Revd David Murray | Director of St George’s Cathedral Centre for Spirituality
There appears to be confusion in Australia about Christmas as city councils’ street decorations depicting the nativity have been all but dispensed with. Glossy magazines proclaim that Christmas is the season of giving and goodwill shared over trendy Christmas dinners and elaborate gifts. On the other hand, other media outlets proclaim that the Christmas season emphasises sad memories, losses, separations and the worst humans can do to each other.
The secular conversation touches on one or two aspects of Christmas but it doesn’t really seem to celebrate ‘Christ-mass’. It is not Christ-mass but Christ-less. The very mystery, that which addresses human sadness and makes sense of our losses when we pause to be embraced by it and ‘osmote’ it … is missing.
The mystery that is missing … dare I try to put words to it without getting breathless and overwhelmed with the wonder and majestic awe of it … is … ‘God-with-us’.
Christmas celebrates the birth of a child. That is breathtaking enough. Through faith this child who is born is recognised, by faith, as God-with-us. That is what makes Christmas much more than a season of goodwill … and sadness.
Christmas is awe-some. God has come among us in a helpless, vulnerable baby regardless of what the secular culture makes of it.
The first people to respond to this mystery exercised great effort in their written and orally transmitted traditions to introduce Jesus, a helpless, vulnerable baby, as God-with-us, born to a poor couple in an obscure village in an occupied country.
The various responses to the baby and young child are presented in Scripture as a range of quaint but deeply impressionable and meaningful pictures or cameos:
- Mary and Joseph welcomed, embraced, loved and provided for the child.
- Poor shepherds, inspired by a vision of angels, dropped their ordinary work and concerns and went to adore the newborn baby.
- Later, Magi, wise men from the east, came bearing symbolic gifts for the growing young boy: GOLD as a tribute to the royalty of Christ, FRANKINCENSE in homage to the divinity of Christ; and MYRRH, pointing to the suffering of Christ … for the whole world.
The expectations of the Messiah by different groups of people at the time were for a strong military leader, a righteous king, or a supernatural figure to intervene and bring greatness to their nation. Yet, the expected one appeared as a helpless, vulnerable child, shattering lofty expectations and drawing the response of the heart.
The response of the heart to Jesus as a baby comes alive each year in the Christian festival of Christmas. At Christmas it is as if for one moment people in every country of the world pause and receive in our hearts what we struggle to understand in our minds: that at the centre of the universe is LOVE of the most ingenuous kind that has the capacity to fill to overflowing in each person in every age and place.
God came to us in the form of a baby. Along with being almighty and transcendent, God is revealed as personal, approachable, vulnerable, love.
When celebrated, embraced and absorbed, this mystery fills and overflows out to others, to the natural order of God’s creation, and back to God. The God of love comes to us first in Jesus the baby, then in the growing boy, and finally in Jesus the mature adult who dies for us and is risen. At Christmas we celebrate his coming ‘for us and for our salvation’ to draw us into the life of eternal fullness in Love.
Published in Messenger December 2021