Remember that Jesus bloke- the one who is actually the true meaning of Christmas? What was all that about then? What was he for?
It is a genuine question, for at least two reasons- the first one is obvious, in that Jesus plays almost no part in our celebrations within the culture of this country at least, beyond the odd school nativity play, in which Jesus is at best the eternal baby. We can (and I have) easily rail against what it has become. In the face of this however, I force myself to step back and remember that feasting has its place after a long journey, and to bring our communities together around a common table. We need this more than ever, right? The looming pandemic might well rob us again…
(As an aside, it seems that in the first one and a half thousand years following on from the life of Jesus, his followers feasted at easter, not christmas. Make of that what you will, but things seemed to start to change at least in part because St Francis proposed the idea that we did not need to wait until the cross for God to love us, rather that the whole thing was about incarnate love.)
The other reason is more esoteric however, because it is a theological one. Those of us from a religious background have often been given a template that, once imposed across all scripture, means that the whole thing is about trying to solve the problem of human sin. The gift that Jesus gives us in this template is as a holy sinless sacrifice to allow the rule of cosmic punishment to be set aside, for some at least. There are many problems with this template of course, which I will not go in to here, but it has dominated until recent times, when many thinkers in and around the church have begun to question it as a flawed or at least partial insight into the gift of Christmas.
The question then, takes us backwards and forwards. Backwards towards the ancient Hebrew idea of ‘Messiah’, and forwards towards what Richard Rohr calls ‘The cosmic Christ’.
The Messiah of old is about justice for the oppressed. His gift is jubilee for the weak and poor, when the crooked roads are made straight and the widow and orphan are embraced. This Messiah will bring about a new kingdom in which people remember that way of love.
The Cosmic Christ on the ther hand, is not just a man, but he is the very substance behind the whole material universe. The point here then is not (only) about solving the problem of sin, but rather a visible revealing of the incarnation of love inside all created things.
Rather than saving a fallen world, this Christ shows how love is constantly coming to us and being revealed to us by the world around us. It is buried within everything because without love, nothing would exist.
Here is RR on the same thing (from here.)
Remember, when we speak of Advent or preparing for Christmas, we’re not just talking about waiting for the little baby Jesus to be born. That already happened 2,000 years ago. In fact, we’re welcoming the Universal Christ, the Cosmic Christ, the Christ that is forever being born in the human soul and into history.
And believe me, we do have to make room, because right now there is no room in the inn for such a mystery. We see things pretty much in their materiality, but we don’t see the light shining through. We don’t see the incarnate spirit that is hidden inside of everything material.
The early Eastern Church, which too few people in the United States and Western Europe are familiar with, made it very clear that the incarnation was a universal principle. Incarnation meant not just that God became Jesus; God said yes to the material universe. God said yes to physicality. Eastern Christianity understands the mystery of incarnation in the universal sense. So it is always Advent. God is forever coming into the world (see John 1:9).
We’re always waiting to see spirit revealing itself through matter. We’re always waiting for matter to become a new form in which spirit is revealed. Whenever that happens, we’re celebrating Christmas. The gifts of incarnation just keep coming. Perhaps this is enlightenment.
This is the gift we recieve as advent moves towards Christmas. The incarnation of…
The coming of winter
It is not the loss of light
It is the revealing
Of a candle’s flame
It is not the loss of leaves
It is the finest tracery
Fingering a steel-grey sky
It is not the vice of ice
But the delicious itch of scarf, and
Air stratified by woodsmoke
It is not incessant soaking rain
But the musical blessing to be found
Behind window panes
It is not cruelty
It is a jubilee, when rested lands, like
human hands, fall fallow
It is not cold
It is a well-stoked fire
Drawing both of us closer