This Christmas Season I've been struck by the craziness of the hope of Christmas. How can a baby born to a poor family in the occupied Roman territory of Palestine nearly 2,000 years ago change the world today? I mean this baby born in a animal-inhabited cave, how can he hope to change the quagmire in Iraq, the out-of-control homicide rate in our city of Oakland, the increasing distance between the economic and political power between the poor and the rich in our country and around our globe, the growing pollution of our planet, the already-in-place consequences of multinational companies and globalization, and even the destruction of the 8 foot tall "security" fence that today encircles and emprisons the sacred city of Bethlehem in which this baby was born?
The HOPE of Christmas is not that this baby can solve all of the problems while in his mother's womb, or even in the straw-lined cradle. Rather the hope is in the INCARNATION - the Christian worldview-foundational perspective that God becomes like us, so that we might become like God. The Christian Scriptures (Colossians 1:15) states that Christ is the "image of the invisible God," the embodiement, icon, or physical way in which we glimpse God and God's presence and saving action in our matieral world.
The material or physical "glimpse" that we get of God in Jesus of Nazareth is that God comes to us, that God loves us to the radical extent that God chooses to become like us in order for us to see who God is, what God is like, and more clearly get what God is about. Jesus is like those spotlights that cirlce our urban skies, pointing and guiding our gaze upwards, drawing out attention to something bigger than we imagined, that we need to experience. Now I don't mean that God is like a year-end-sale-blow-out at Target, but that it's in the birth of that baby that we are invited to begin to fathom who God is and what God wants with, of, and for us.
Simple enough. But it gets tricky - historically - and still today - because rather than us becoming like God, we tend to make God become like us - in our image. And so we make Jesus the God of the Roman Empire, the justification for the Inquisition, the leader of the Crusades, or then architect of imperial colonisation. We miss out on the mystery that in Christ, God becomes like us so that we might become like God. The picutres I found illustrate some of the mystery of this idea...across cultures and times countless people have experienced the power of the incarnation, a life-transforming experience of the hope-giving presence of a God that becomes like them in our joy, suffering, trials, and hopes.... What better hope is the perspective that God comes to us on our terms, in our culture, in our vernacular so that we can see something bigger, better, and bolder in our age often called POST-modern, POST-colonial, POST-Christian, POST-industrial....an age in which we know things are changing and have changed...yet we don't yet know or taste what the future will become.
Now you might be thinking that it's just not true...that the dating of the Christmas Story (Jesus' birth, the date of the census, and the date of Herod's reign) don't match up....or that there is increasing descrepency between the belief that he was born in Bethlehem or Nazareth. But the power of the story of Christmas is that it's a life-transfoming story. The gospel writers didn't seek to produce a copy that would be on the cover of the New York - or the Alexandria Times...rather they sought to record, testify to, and transmit the story of Jesus of Nazareth - the story of how he changed their life and transformed their worldview, a story that we can't prove or disprove with science, historical criticism, reason, or ancient artifacts, but a story that is testified to as life-transforming, life-giving, and life-sustaining by countless lives across the past 20 centuries in every nation, tribe, and language on our diverse planet.
How have you experienced Jesus of Nazareth? Who is he for you? How was that changed for you? How has it transformed you?