Article for St Catharines Standard newspaper by Peter Youngren.
One of the unique aspects of the Christian Gospel story is the humility of God. Religion normally allows for a distant deity, not a god who stoops, who comes down, entering human history to be a part of the human situation. No, deities are described as remote, somewhat out of touch for mere humans. In the Gospel story, the divine incarnation happens in the most unpretentious place, in a stable. Christmas is a story of the creator God, who wants to be united with His creation. Yet, it is more than a desire. God is willing to humble Himself, and to endure enormous suffering to accomplish this union with humanity.
A common picture of God or gods is, that of a towering omnipotent, unapproachable presence, indifferent towards human suffering, and in constant need of appeasement. Such gods usually exist in a different sphere, separated from us, preoccupied with themselves and with limited interest in human affairs, unless there is something to be gained for the deity itself. The Christmas story stands in stark contrast to the gods that the human mind has imagined. This God is not a taker, but a giver; there is no self-centeredness. In fact, the concept of an untouchable deity is anathema to the Gospel. Instead, we see God, preoccupied with love for us, moved by concern for our welfare, determined to bless us with abundant life, wanting no separation between the mortal and the divine.
The human mind does not seem to create deities of such compassion and selflessness. Christmas shows that God is relational, enjoying fellowship with His creation, and totally giving of Himself for our well-being.
When I grew up my family used to read the Christmas story from Luke chapter two. That is the classic account with the shepherds, Mary, Joseph, and the innkeeper. I still enjoy that story, but John’s gospel has grown on me over the years. He simply writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1), and “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). This casts a vision that is far greater in scope, showing that Christ is the everlasting God, incarnated in the person of Jesus, as God’s eternal plan for His creation.
Jesus’ coming in Bethlehem was not an afterthought, but something purposed from the beginning. Nothing, not even the universe, our solar system, or the human race itself is eternal. There was a time, when all of these were “not”. What was then? There was God, “the word” that “in the fullness of time” became flesh in Bethlehem 2000 years ago. Now this unlimited, eternal God, who has always loved us, came to be with us – the unlimited revealed in limited human flesh. The shepherds received the message of joy to the world; we hear the song played in malls and on the radio. It is a fantastic story, and somewhere in the Holy Book, we read; “the humble will hear of it and be glad”. May the joy be yours this Christmas!