Christmas celebrates a this worldly God. This is a problem. Some find the fleshliness difficult. Others find God difficult. A this worldly God on close reflection is a constant challenge to our ideas of world and god.
After I wrote that sentence I realised that I did the classic act of reducing world and god to ideas. So I add: A this worldly God on close reflection is a constant challenge to our ideas and experiences of world and god.
A this worldly god is inevitably messy intricately weaving himself into our experience, our biases and our appropriations.
A this worldly god seems infinitely interpretable; he is part of each ones experience through all time, but a this worldly god is also frighteningly particular and singular for as a human creature he is limited to his body.
A this worldly God is a problem.
Christians worship a refugee.
At a time when politically stable societies celebrate Christmas with family it’s worth remembering that Mary and Joseph suddenly had to move from Nazareth to Bethlehem and then a little while later flee to Egypt.
The Christmas story is inherently filled with instability and danger. From this place of confusion it looks outwards and says ‘Peace to all’.
Christmas is messily materialistic. The Word became flesh. Blood, bodily fluids, wordless crying are at the heart of Christmas story. It is icky, joyful and fills the senses.
This is why with so many objects criss crossing the planet it fulfils part of the spirit of Christmas. The handling of the card, the wrapping of the gift, the prising of the plastic, the eating of food, the drinking of wine affirms our bodily humanity; for God affirms bodily humanity in its messy state by taking on a breathing, weeing, gurgling body.
An excerpt from Frances Young’s Can These Dry Bones Live:
There is a mood… in society which elevates activity at the expense of thought and disciplined study, which devalues pure research in favour of applied, which turns the word ‘academic’ into a word of criticism, a synonym for ‘irrelevant’, ‘impractical’ or ‘niggling’. People are prepared to accept slipshod thinking and superficial slogans, as long as some practical conribution is the outcome. And this mood has invaded the church. The emphasis is on effective service and practical action, on pastoral work and being available to people willy-nilly, on political campaigning and social engagement. Of course such things are important, but I cannot help feeling that if everyone stopped rushing around in little circles and began to think about the centre of it all, then the enriched life of the church would in itself ensure that it had greater impact. People seem to assume that it is boring, ineffective, irrelevant to invest time and effort in disciplined study of the Bible and the Christian past, that preaching must be ‘with it’ or it is dead, that theological thinking is destructive – a burden for the church rather than an asset – and all we need is simple faith. How can they be so short-sighted?
That was written in 1981. Things don’t seem to have changed much.
I do wonder what the point of my theological education is. I can’t seem to communicate to those I was meant to communicate to. Everything has to be practical and nice.
Through theology, I’ve understood a broader politics, discovered a world of philosophy and dipped into pools linguistics and literature. And yes, Jesus too. I’ve been given a gift and I’d like to share it, but it’s impossible. No one’s bothered, which is fine. People have their own choices and finally, Jesus does love them. Others possibly communicate their theology but I can’t. And in some senses I wish I hadn’t learnt it.
Then this burden wouldn’t exist, life would be simple and practical and I’d have been much happier. I might have even had a steady job! The thought of it!