Blessed Christmas and Happy New Year from LTSP
“God sent no angel to our race
of higher or of lower place,
but wore the robe of human frame
himself, and to this lost world came.”
Attr. Thomas á Kempis, 15th Century
On this Christmas Day, many of us will recall hearing the words of St. John as he confesses that, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God,” and a few verses later that, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” This won’t, of course, be the first time we’ve heard this confession, and so the chances are good that we will not give them a second thought other than to notice once again the poetic beauty of John’s Prologue.
Earlier Christians, however, did not simply admire John’s literary skill but struggled deeply with the implications of his confession. The second-century Gnostic Christian Marcion, for instance, preferred to imagine Jesus as a kind of super-angel rather than accept the idea that the holy God would deign to be joined to frail and fickle human flesh. His views, wildly popular at the time, drew an unlikely opponent in the monk Tertullian of Carthage. “Come, then, start with the birth itself,” Tertullian wrote, “the object of aversion, and run through your catalogue: the filth of the generative seeds within the womb, of the bodily fluid and blood; the loathsome, curdled lump of flesh which has to be fed for nine months off this same muck.”
Pretty strong language for an ascetic monk! And, truth be told, as Tertullian goes on, it’s hard not to sympathize with Marcion, as all this does seems a bit beneath the dignity of any self-respecting God. But then Tertullian gets to his point: “You repudiate such veneration of nature, do you,” he asks, “but how were you born?” And there it is: if human birth is too messy or mucky for God, then so are we. Yet the God Tertullian worships — the God revealed to us in the vulnerable infant at Bethlehem — is joined to God’s beloved creation in the Incarnation precisely to share the ups and downs, hopes and disappointments, love and loss that characterize each of our lives.
So, as we celebrate this Christmas Day, I pray that amid the beautiful stories of angels and shepherds and mangers and all the rest, you will be struck anew by the audacity and wonder that God loved us enough to become one of us, sharing fully our mortal life that we might share God’s eternal life. This is the confession we hear, sing, give thanks for and, I pray, will share in this new year of grace.