The First Day of Christmas was yesterday, but I’ve given up trying to get anything contemplative done on December 25th. It’s a day for raucous celebration, the bustle of the kitchen preparing a feast, the thrill of generous giving to friends and family. I hope you had a great time surrounded by the people you love, delicious food, and all the loot under the tree. I certainly did, and I regret none of it. And now, with my fridge stuffed with leftovers, a mug of homemade egg nog before me, and a half-eaten tray of cookies on the counter, I’d like to welcome you to Christmastide.
Today is the Second Day of Christmas. Today, we begin the quieter side of Christmas: contemplating the incarnation of God. God became human, that humanity might share in the divine nature.
Jesus was born into a world of “divine” kings. From the Pharaohs of Egypt to the Roman Caesars, the ancient world was awash in rulers that claimed descent from the gods and demanded worship as gods themselves.
Difficult as it is to imagine today, people took this entirely seriously, and many people still believe in the underlying logic to this day. If at bottom, reality is one great chain of being that runs from beach sand to transcendent deity, then there’s nothing inherently ridiculous about a human being ascending to godhood. The fellow might have been the captain of the palace guard yesterday, but he assassinated the king last night, and today he’s the son of Ra, or Marduk, or Jupiter, surrounded by palace walls of beaten gold, and building himself a tomb that will last five thousand years. He is a god, as his son will be after him. How could he not be? Everyone believed it, from the kings themselves to the priests that served them to the stonemasons that built their tombs — and paradoxically, that belief legitimated the whole stratified social system.
Into this world of royal pretensions to divinity, the actual God of the universe chose to be born, not in a palace or a temple, but a stable. Not to royal parents, not even to a priest, but to a construction worker and a teenage girl. From this subversive beginning, the rest of the story flows.