I've recently been thinking about the Christmas season (for obvious reasons). It seems like it always sneaks up on me, despite the way I roll my eyes when I hear Christmas music playing in mid-October. Maybe it's because for most of my life, the Christmas season has corresponded with the busiest time of classes and finals, and when I come up for air at Thanksgiving, I'm always left saying, "Wait--Christmas? Already?"
Yesterday the pastor of my church back in Pittsburgh preached a really wonderful sermon about what it meant for the second person of the Trinity to come down to earth and become a human: God with us. That phrase has always made me feel a little spooked, in a good way. It should feel mysterious and unfathomable, for God to become human. But often, I don't think it does.
Growing up in the church has some interesting side-effects, one of which is not truly realizing how outrageous the claims of Christianity are until much later in life. There are beliefs that I've held my entire life that I've finally stopped and actually thought about, and then found myself thinking, "You have to be crazy to be a Christian." And yet I often feel that the outlandishness of the tenets of Christianity provides some of the most compelling proof of the reality of the gospel. At its core, Christianity is not a nice religion--not a clean religion. It is not sanitized, though many perceive it that way, and many have tried to portray it so.
The belief that God became a human and walked among us is high on the list of inconceivable, and quite messy truths. I've spent a lot of time thinking about it in a philosophical sense, and pondering what it meant for God to become human. How could it be? How could a God we claim to be so immense and immeasurable become so small and inconsequential? To take on the life of a human, a speck of nothing in comparison to the vastness of the universe? The implications of that truth are profound.
Yet, as my pastor called my attention to yesterday, perhaps what is even more astounding and outlandish are the further implications of what it means to be human. Jesus not only humbled himself to become a human, he humbled himself to become a human. And all that entails. I've spent time reflecting on Jesus' human form, from time to time, when faced with temptation (because we are told that there is no temptation he did not also endure), but I'm not sure I've ever really let it land that he dealt with everything humans deal with. Things like diarrhea, and insomnia, and sweaty armpits. The Son of God had to get potty-trained.
I'm not saying this to be flippant. I'm saying this because it matters. It matters a lot. We all have an intimate knowledge of the filth and the unrest in this world, and God did not enter the world as a human surrounded by a sterile bubble. He breathed in the breath of the woman at the well, and touched the puss coming out of the blind man's eyes. He walked through this world catching colds from those who clung to his clothing, and in the end he died a death where he lost control of his bodily functions, just as every human does when they die. He hung on the cross sweating and bleeding and crying, as his body betrayed him unto death.
That is what we celebrate at Christmastime. Not the happy glow of an idyllic manger scene, but a woman bleeding on straw while she birthed a savior who knew the ins and outs of pain and struggle. We have hope because God was not above or around us, he was with us. He knows our suffering, because he suffered. Our hope, in this world that is so clearly wrong and sloppy and ugly, is that Jesus knows the world, and he knows us. He doesn't just love us on the days when we've eaten right and done everything on our checklist, he loves us when we're bloated and cynical and crying in our beds. And he has redeemed us. We have an entire month dedicated solely to reveling in this reality, and to celebrating this outlandish, absurd, crazy beautiful truth--so let us celebrate.
For to us a child is born.
~ He Held Radical Light, Christian Wiman
~ An American Childhood, Annie Dillard