God in the flesh, Christ incarnate; we use these words as if we had the slightest clue what they might mean.
But even when I look in a mirror, I am never fully sure of what I see.
But this image of a baby, so now, yet so far away, what we might call a crisis pregnancy, in a tiny town, isolated and shared, still baffles us as it draws us in.
The incarnation is a Christmas treat – an enigma wrapped in mystery and baked in wonder.
It is every child’s wish – or even assumption – that the Divine Presence and Creator knows me and my ways before me. Yet somehow as adults we lose that naïve, almost instinctual, sense of security and find ourselves spiraling into the abyss of aloneness and abandonment.
This tension, this resonance of weakening and vulnerability seems to hover over the Christmas scenes that almost smother in their familiarity. Almost.
The terms we use; virgin, swaddling clothes and manger have become soft and familiar, but only because we, in our foolishness, which we tell ourselves is wisdom, have made Christ’s birth a memento, a souvenir, that we hold onto or even use as a talisman to ward off evil.
But if we look a bit closer, this baby, this living promise of many centuries, is, as God always is, the answer we didn’t know we were looking for.
Imagine this young woman, and the father, a bit older, off on their own, both from cultures where family is central, and personal reputation is always fuel for local gossip, in the grip and confusion of an unexpected pregnancy, and she, as well as he, puzzled, embarrassed and afraid.
Can we picture Joseph, torn out of his established life, and, like any man perhaps, involved in a crisis pregnancy, not knowing who – or what – to believe.
Does he dare believe Mary? Does he dare not?
Does he stake his life, his future, his reputation on a dream?
An unexpected –or even expected- pregnancy is upheaval enough, but could we imagine leaving home and family, having a baby among strangers and then slipping away to a foreign country, in this case Egypt, for who knows how long?
We see ‘Living Nativity’ scenes where a young family stands out in the cold, and lives, for a moment, a display case Christianity, but we forget that He who would later call himself the bread of life, finds his first earthly home in a food trough for cows and his ‘swaddling clothes’ are strips of rags.
The people of Israel had been praying for, and expecting a Messiah to rescue, to deliver them. And many of us do the same.
But they and many of us still, wanted something glorious, something to deliver us from our difficulties.
This baby is an awkward answer.
This baby, like a grain of sand in an oyster, takes time to become something we finally recognize.
This baby, like every baby, is a burden and a promise. And a blessing.
This baby, this real crying, needy baby reminds us that God loves us, not because we are so ‘good’ or even because we say certain things, but purely because we are His.
The Christmas story is so familiar that we have obscured its real message.
Can anything good come out of Nazareth? The Gospels ask. Can anything come out of a crisis pregnancy, a refugee family, a child wrapped in scandal and rags? Can anything good come out of poverty and oppression, Roman occupation, strange dreams and escape to a foreign country?
We expect God to deliver us from those things that oppress us, never realizing that God, the giver of life, would give us a baby, not to rescue us, but to remind us that real love is not given, it is drawn out of each one of us.
Morf Morford considers himself a free-range Christian who is convinced that God expects far more of us than we can ever imagine, but somehow thinks God knows more than we do. To pay his bills, he’s been a teacher for adults (including those in his local county jail) in a variety of setting including Tribal colleges, vocational schools and at the university level in the People’s Republic of China. Within an academic context, he also writes an irreverent ESL blog and for the Burnside Writers Collective. As he’s getting older, he finds himself less tolerant of pettiness and dairy products.