Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas - To make God come alive

I stumbled upon this gem of quote by Alexander Schmemann that I have to pass on, even if it’s Christmas morning. No one’s up yet, anyways. Here’s the quote:

"The child in that distant Bethlehem cave has no desire that we fear him; he enters our hearts not by frightening us, by proving his power and authority, but by love alone. He is given to us as a child, and only as children can we in turn love him and give ourselves to him. The world is ruled by authority and power, by fear and domination. The child God liberates us from that. All he desires from us is our love, freely given and joyful; all he desires is that we give him our heart. And we give it to a defenseless, endlessly trusting child."

I’ve often wondered how God can make Himself known to His creation without forcing anyone to believe in Him. I’m that last person in the world that wants to be told what to believe. And yet, I sit here, a lifelong Christian because of my parents and others along the way who helped me stay faithful? Why? Why didn’t I abandon it along the way as childish? I think it’s because the people in the church that I knew understood Christmas and the revelation of God in this tiny baby.

One of my favorite Christmas hymns is “Hark the Herold Angels Sing.” It’s friggin’ brilliant, both lyrically and musically (as far as hymns go, at least). There’s a line that goes like this: “Veiled in flesh that godhead see, Hail the incarnate deity.” It loses impact, of course, when it’s detached from the verse and music, but it’s still good. I think we read these lines and immediate imagine grownup Jesus walking around the dusty roads of the middle east, and maybe even grownup Jesus on the cross. But this verse is not just sung about grownup Jesus, but for baby Jesus as well.

The incarnate deity in this 6 lb 8oz little body (that’s just a guess. I honestly don’t know the precise specs on the kid).

If first impressions are everything, then this Schememann quote reminds me that God’s first impression in the flesh was not His lambasting judgment on our sinfulness. And actually, that’s never been anything God has been about, even in the Old Testament, despite some really tough passages where it seems like God is royally pissed off. It’s still not WHAT He is ABOUT. Catch my drift? Really, God’s not mad at us.

This quote reminds me that God’s first impression in the flesh is helplessness, an urgent appeal to humanity to take care of Him, tend Him, and nurture Him into the world. God comes and says unless you feed me I will die. It seems God has made it so that something is at stake in how we handle Him. It would seem, then, that even those who do not believe in God but love their kids understand Christmas on a very deep and visceral level. And I imagine that their hatred for God is not God’s fault but His church’s fault.

The church that forgets Christmas is the church the judges harshly and fiercely the sins of others.

The church that remembers Christmas remembers that we, like Mary, have been called to “birth” God into the world and those of us with kids, or who know kids, understand that the only way to make a baby come alive is to keep it warm, feed, and dry, and then to look deeply into its eyes and make stupid goofy faces at it until it smiles.

The church that does this is a credible church, for as von Balthasar so poignantly puts its, “Love alone it credible.”

And now my family is up, so, Peace!

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