This festive season, Sarah Small, Head of Eden, reflects on why remembering Jesus’ birth isn’t something we should just do at Christmas.
Christmas is rapidly approaching and in 2020 it comes at the end of a year like no other. We’ve got regulations and rules to factor into our plans, we have had almost a years’ worth of uncertainty, loss and challenge, and we know that for many this will not feel like a joyful or a peaceful season. Many of us will be apart from those we would most want to be with, whether this is due to observing rules or whether it’s due to the loss of loved ones this year. It’s a bittersweet time.
But perhaps this Christmas we have a glimpse of some of the emotions and challenges experienced that first Christmas 2000 years ago, which our annual festive excesses usually blind us to. Perhaps this year we can see more clearly and relate more closely to this first nativity story.
Maybe we can relate to the young, pregnant Mary – exhausted at the end of a long and surprising pregnancy, travelling 80 miles to Jerusalem on foot as her due date looms. Unaware of what will await her there and unable to plan or prepare adequately for the birth of this most precious baby.
Or perhaps we sense the frustration of Joseph, having found himself in the centre of a plan that would open him up to ridicule and shame, and being at the mercy of government regulations that dictated his movements at the most inconvenient of times. He must have felt unable to fulfil his role of protector and provider, disempowered and disappointed.
Or maybe it’s the baby Jesus himself, one so vulnerable and so weak. Not only was the Son of God born as a baby to a young family with no experience of child rearing, he wasn’t even safe. He wasn’t at home and he wasn’t even born in sanitary conditions – he was at the mercy of a whole heap of external influences, all of which seemed far from ideal.
And yet in this tiny vulnerable baby was God’s own Son – the agent of God’s great plan, the centrepiece to all human history. This incarnation, this God made man, this deity with skin on changed everything.
CS Lewis writes,
“The central miracle asserted by Christians is the Incarnation. They say that God became Man. Every other miracle prepares for this, or exhibits this, or results from this.”
This greatest of miracles, that our God was born, that the promises of the prophets were fulfilled, that God had come to be with his people transformed the exhaustion, frustration and vulnerability into hope, joy and peace.
In his letter to the Philippians 2:5-8 Paul writes,
“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!“
Our Eden communities this year have had a rough ride. This pandemic has not been a great leveller as some have said. Instead, it has contributed to the increasingly great divide that is happening on our watch, exacerbating the differences even more so between those who can keep safe, retain income and basic pleasures and those who do not have that luxury. So many of our neighbours are exhausted, frustrated and vulnerable this season. The have not yet heard the good news of Isaiah 9:6 that,
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.“
In March I wrestled with the temptation to head back to my parents’ house for a time, to get away from the risk, to be in the countryside, to be amongst those I loved the most (to share out the intensity of childcare!). I had the luxury of that option. But I chose not to. It wasn’t easy (and this isn’t about me signalling virtue here) but it’s a reminder that we must keep making choices if we wish to live out the story of the incarnation past Christmas, if we wish to let our friends and neighbours know that they are worth being with, worth being alongside, worth taking a risk to our own health and wellbeing on.
You see this miracle of incarnation, of God being with his people, alongside them, with them in their exhaustion, frustration and vulnerability is not just for Christmas. It’s the direction of travel for each of us who calls ourselves followers.
If we desire to be more like Christ, we need to submit our advantage, privilege, power or selfish ambition to him – to become nothing, to pursue humility, proximity and vulnerability. This will require choices, made regularly, often uncomfortable. But in each choice, we step closer to him who chose to change everything by becoming nothing.
This Advent and Christmas season, I pray that as you revisit the nativity, as you ponder the incarnation, you are challenged afresh to implement the downward mobility of Christ which opens the fullness of his wonder, counsel, might, love and peace to the world still so much in need.