The Third Day of Christmas: The Humility of God

27 December 2019

How often does our fear of what people think stop us from doing what we know we’re called to do? 

Today is the Third Day of Christmas, and an appropriate moment to contemplate the humility of God. When He became man, God could have chosen to be born into circumstances appropriate to the majesty of the occasion. Instead, He chose to be born not to a king or a priest, but to a teenage girl who was engaged to a construction worker. Engaged, not married — in a strongly monogamous, patriarchal culture where that meant He was born under a cloud of family disapproval, to parents whose reputations would never recover from the scandal. If you didn’t grow up in a culture where sex was put off til the wedding night, it’s hard to wrap your head around the shame that Mary and Joseph were willingly signing up for, but trust me, it’s real, and very, very costly. 

The gospels describe Mary’s encounter with the angel who tells her what’s about to happen, but can you imagine her conversation with Joseph afterward? He knows the baby’s not his, but how is she supposed to tell him what’s happening? How is he supposed to believe her? The gospels tell us that an angel also appeared to Joseph in a dream, and that convinced him of the truth. But when he decided to go through with the wedding even though Mary was pregnant, Joseph was kissing his own reputation goodbye. If he couldn’t be trusted to do right by his future wife, what would you trust the man with? The scandalous birth cost Mary family support that she would need to raise a child, cost Joseph social connections and business deals he would need to support his family, and made Jesus an outsider from birth, a child that shouldn’t exist — in a small-town culture that would never, ever forget. 

Jesus willingly submitted to this scandalous birth, and it followed Him for His whole life. (For example, they throw it in His face in John 8:41.) He didn’t let it stop Him from fulfilling His calling.

What about you? What are you called to? Who is going to disapprove? Sit your reputation down on your lap, kiss its forehead, and say goodbye. You, too, are called to more important things than being respectable.

The Second Day of Christmas: Subversive Beginnings

26 December 2019

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. 

Axial Tilt and Incarnation

24 December 2019

At Christmas, the Divine Word became flesh. Blasphemy to the Jews, foolishness to the Greeks, and sedition to the Romans, but it happened all the same. The very fact that such a thing is even possible demonstrates the central promise of Christianity: that we human beings, just as we are, can partake of the divine nature, just as it is, without any fudging, equivocation, or dismal compromises. Any and all of the resources of heaven—whatever you might need to face the challenges of your life—will fit into a human being.

We know this, because it has already happened.

And when Jesus proved it possible, He also invited you to join Him in the dance. Want in? Ask, and it will be given to you, like the Man said.

Axial tilt is the reason for the season, but the incarnation of God is the reason we celebrate.