Category Archives: Christmas

Celebrating the With-Us-God: Divine Humility and Human Hope

Christmas is the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, who is proclaimed by the faithful as the Prince of Peace and Savior of the World. The hopes of Israel are embodied in an heir of David who will be King and bring deliverance, healing, and restoration (See Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2). We are familiar with the humility of Mary and Joseph, the humble setting of the birth, shepherds receiving angelic visitations, and, eventually, Magi coming to worship a toddler Jesus in his home. May we nourish these thoughts forever.

But there is something even deeper about Christmas that can be lost in the familiar festivities. Christmas is the great moment of divine humility: The eternal Son, “God of very God, Light from Light, begotten, not made…” (from the 4th century Nicene Creed) assumes human nature and enters our history. Michael Card expressed this profound truth so well: “Behold the mystery fantastic and wild; a Mother made by her own Child.” The Eternal steps into time. The Infinite assumes finitude. The Holy One becomes forever human. This is why Matthew 1:22-23 declares that Jesus is Immanuel, which translated literally, means, the “With-Us-God.”

Jewish scholars were stunned by Jesus. On one hand, he was hailed as the Son of David, the Messiah coming to liberate God’s people. Yet Jesus chose a path of healing over violence, deliverance over despotism, inclusion of outsiders over catering to the elites. Jesus’ humility, powerful teaching, and miracles won him many followers. But Jesus was more than an expected King: he declared himself one with the Father and assumed divine attributes reserved only for the One True God: forgiving sin, receiving worship, and declaring his understanding of Scripture the final and full word. For the Jews, this was blasphemy and the unity of the Father and Son was impossible, for God is One. And this oneness is absolute, with no room for rivals.

As Christianity spreads beyond Judaism and welcomes converts from Greek and Roman philosophies and religions, the idea that Ultimate Truth could assume human nature was deemed illogical and impossible. After all, the soul was trapped in the material body and that which is perfect could never be contained in flesh. This dualism would later infect Christian thinking, with unfortunate consequences. Popular religion in Rome had a place for many gods, but Christians refused to bow to any other lords or gods other than the Eternal God revealed in Jesus, who is Lord and the Christ. So Greek dualism and Roman polytheism were rejected in favor of the adoration of the Father, the Son (Jesus of Nazareth) and Holy Spirit.

Let’s come back to divine humility. In Jesus, God is forever one of us! What an affirmation of being human! Jesus’ experience was just as ours, though without the sin that ruined our first parents and continues subverting our lives. Jesus developed from a child to an adult, faced all our temptations, experienced our emotions, knew physical fatigue and limitations, and enjoyed life with friends and family. His crucifixion was excruciating. On the Cross he carried our sins and sorrows, sufferings and unanswered questions. His bodily resurrection on Easter offers a preview of the eternity for all believers: our future includes embodied work and play, community and worship. Jesus is forever one of us. If we could somehow have Scotty (of Star Trek fame) beam us to heaven, we would be able to touch Jesus, for even as the glorified Lord, he is one of us.

This Christmas, let’s allow divine humility to heal us from inferiority or inadequacy arising from our past and the abuses and rejections we remember so well. We are worth God forever becoming human. We are worth the painful and unjust death of the Cross. We have a vision of our future on Easter. With God’s help and the support of many around us, we can walk in confidence and hope, for we have welcomed Immanuel into our lives. 

The Hope of Christmas: The With-Us-God

The influence of Christianity and celebrations of winter solstice came together by the 5th century. From that moment to the present, Christians of every tradition have celebrated the Advent Season and Christmas as the dawn of hope, the moment where the Eternal stepped into time and God forever became one of us in Jesus of Nazareth.

For much of history, commemorations were solemn, with Advent, like its Spring counterpart Lent, understood as a time of prayer and sacrifice. With the work of St. Francis and others in the 13th century, Madonna and Child become iconic and celebrations begin, albeit in modest forms. Martin Luther commended lighting the Tannenbaum (Christmas tree), transforming a pagan ritual into a celebration of Jesus as the Light of the world.

The Victorian era is the source of most Western/global Christmas imagery and festivities and only in the late 19th and early 20th century has Christmas become the holiday we know and love today. Many devout Christians still resist this celebration, disliking the pagan influences and the excuse for excess.

The Hope of Christmas is the promise of salvation and peace through the coming of Jesus. This humble son of a carpenter is declared by angels and shepherds, aging prophets and faraway magi as King of the Jews and Savior of humankind. Songwriter Michael Card declares:

“Behold the mystery fantastic and wild; A Mother made by her own Child.”

Author G.K. Chesterton offers this as we ponder the Incarnation:

Gloria en Profundis

There has fallen on earth for a token
A god too great for the sky.
He has burst out of all things and broken
The bounds of eternity:
Into time and the terminal land
He has strayed like a thief or a lover,
For the wine of the world brims over,
Its splendour is split on the sand.

Who is proud when the heavens are humble,
Who mounts if the mountains fall,
If the fixed stars topple and tumble
And a deluge of love drowns all-
Who rears up his head for a crown,
Who holds up his will for a warrant,
Who strives with the starry torrent,
When all that is good goes down?

For in dread of such falling and failing
The fallen angels fell
Inverted in insolence, scaling
The hanging mountain of hell:
But unmeasured of plummet and rod
Too deep for their sight to scan,
Outrushing the fall of man
Is the height of the fall of God.

Glory to God in the Lowest
The spout of the stars in spate-
Where thunderbolt thinks to be slowest
And the lightning fears to be late:
As men dive for sunken gem
Pursuing, we hunt and hound it,
The fallen star has found it
In the cavern of Bethlehem.

The Biblical Story is not one of human ascent to the divine, but of divine longing and pursuit of our race of rebels. It is God that reaches out, God who searches, God who invites…and finally, God who comes in Jesus and makes the ultimate sacrifice for our eternal life. In the words of Linus, “That is what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

Light and Shadow: Grace and Truth About Our Lives

The Story of Christmas is Eternal Light shining in the darkness and Eternal Love that united God and humankind forever in Jesus of Nazareth (Gospel of John, chapter 1, verses 1-18). Johns beautiful hymn reveals a world of light and shadow, of divine grace and demonic deception, of receiving and rejecting love.

For this reflection, let us consider the shadow side of every good intention and the wisdom we need as the navigate the rapids of daily life.

Religious faith if often a positive force, offering meaning, fostering humility, and transforming character. As a Christian, I affirm that in Jesus of Nazareth, we have the final and sufficient disclosure of grace and truth to the world. But there can be a shadow side of intolerance, institutional oppression, and disrespectful interaction. For all Christians – and any adherents to a religious tradition – we must see all our neighbors as divine image-bearers and engage peaceably, work together harmoniously when possible, and love sincerely, even as we pray for their conversion.

Patriotism can help unite diverse groups under a banner of idealism. It’s shadow side in history includes nativism, racism, and failure to respect other cultures and systems. White supremacy is a subtle stronghold. The answer is to love the ideals while building bridges of friendship and trust.

Agitation for racial justice is noble and still needed as we try to realize the dream of our founders and MLK. The shadow side is hatred for historical oppressors that leads to a new racism, such as the Nation of Islam. The answer is grace and truth, love in action, as we confront systemic evils and build personal connections.

Liberty for and true toleration persons that identify as non-binary and part of the LGBTQ+ networks are important if we believe all people are created equal. The shadow side here is the radical agenda that calls for the destruction of the biological family and sexual anarchy. Toleration is living with our differences, not demanding that all agree with the choices and ideologies chosen by others.

Recognizing the unjust history of Western colonialism is vital for humility and forging a better future. The shadow side of legitimate critiques is a failure to see the oppressive histories of others’ cultures and bright facets of the global influences of a culture infused with some Judeo-Christian values. Critiquing the West’s imperialism toward Muslim lands during the 19th-early 20th century period is important. The shadow side is that we forget the 1000 years of Islamic expansion and destruction and the jihadism that refuses to grant equality to outsiders. Ignoring this and only feeling guilty will place more nations under the intolerant rule of Sharia.

Finally, we must affirm the goodness of liberty and the potential of each person to bring good to the world. The shadow side is excessive focus on self, with “my dreams” and “my gifts” being separated from good to others.

May we welcome the Light of Christ into every shadow in our souls and our systems, our hearts and our habits, our highest ideals and deepest dreams.