For me, the Christian faith is the single most radical, humanistic, and revolutionary claim ever. While the events of the passion and resurrection are the central meaningful events of the Christian faith, when we remember the birth of Jesus, we make a startling claim: We’re saying that all of God came to live among us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
This is not only a claim that a specific tribal god has acted in a specific way for the benefit of that particular group of people – it is most assuredly this, and the starting point for the declaration of Christmas – but the proclamation that this very specific, very real, very human event involves the God who makes and sustains us. At Christmas, we’re not just sharing the blessings of family and gifts, of sentiment and comfort. At Christmas we’re proclaiming that the God who has made everything cares enough about this one little group of persons suffering under foreign domination and oppression to come down to earth to effectuate their freedom; in so doing, this same God sees fit to free all humanity – indeed, all creation – from the one enemy nothing escapes: death.
We human beings are schizo about religion. We like it to be comforting. Why else do so many turn to it when the going gets rough? We do so, at least titular or former Christians at any rate, because the proclamation of the Incarnation is indeed one of radical comfort and care, rooted in an understanding of the human condition that has become divine, holy, and eternal. God comforts because God has grieved. God consoles because God has suffered. God provides solidarity because God has experienced oppression. All the sorrows and sufferings of human existence have been taken up into the Divine Life. They are made holy, provide the source of human confidence in the faithfulness of God in the midst of all our trials.
At the same time, we don’t like it when people turn religion into a weapon to wield against others. We tend to be put off by the exclusionary ideas inherent in the proclamation of the Incarnation. The truth is, though, God takes sides. If the Incarnation teaches us anything, it’s that God’s fullness dwelt among a specific people at a specific time and place, reaching out to specific groups of people, working with outcasts of all kinds to create something that, while transcending the politics of the moment nevertheless speaks to that moment in the most radical way possible: Divine favor rests with those the world casts out. The Divine Presence is with those we call blasphemers and sinners. Divine power is evident not in the biggest battalions or billions of dollars but in the beloved community of the excluded who experience human life in all its fullness in the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth. No, there are no particular partisan political conclusions one can draw from these events. There are, however, very certain and sure ways of living that impact how we are to live toward one another that are given real life and meaning in and through the Incarnation.
Divine grace, that overwhelming, overflowing love that takes this sad and broken reality, says “Yes” to it even as it says “No” to it, is summed up in the events of Holy Week. These moments give meaning, not a meaning we find but rather a meaning that finds us, as we realize God has been here with us all along, in this broken corpse now missing from the tomb. We live in a Universe unimaginable in its breadth and potential both for beauty and violence. That Universe is the product of completely free Divine love and care. A love so free that God chose to become flesh and dwell among us folks, right here on this one damp rock circling a forgettable star on the fringes of a galaxy that probably has bigger concerns.