Christmas is coming and if one knows his or her Bible well, the fourth gospels' contribution to the story is not so much narrative as it is poetic. The Book of John does not give the play-by-play events in the manger, but I think John is reflecting on the whole inbreaking event that comes to fruition that early morning which we celebrate on December 25. What happens that day in Bethlehem is the full realization of what it is to be human.
Saint John begins as Genesis begins, "In the beginning," so time really matters, as it always does. At a particular place and time, in the beginning, even if we cannot pinpoint that particular date on a calendar, was the Creator and his Son, here known as the Word. They were together, molding and shaping our world into being. Laying down the rebarb in the concrete so we would have a solid foundation. We would be a humanity in a world of great fortitude. We could weather many storms as our narrative lays out. We could, with God's help, persevere catastrophic natural and social disasters.
But it is my belief that the world came to know fuller what it is to be human when Jesus came. Too often we think of Jesus as divine and separate, and he is all of those things lifted up--King and Saviour and many more descriptions. But Jesus gives us the working definition and understanding of what it is to be human. It is him. It is his body. It is his way of being in the world. It is his way of dealing with friends and enemies. It is his humble walk upon the land. It is his prayer practices. It is his calm in the face of danger. It is his strength when made weak in the face of death. It is his absolute confidence that he would be raised to new life to return to the beginning and the end where He and his Father both created the world and brought this project to completion.
Too many people hold up the way of Jesus as something for Jesus and not for them. Thank God I don't have to be like him. But that's a copout. We know we are not him in fullness, but we are to be like him in all ways imaginable. That is why we partake of his body and blood. He asks us to do as he does in the world. Love our neighbor. Find our worst enemies and imagine a way to make friends. Take up the cross rather than a sword when conflict arises when we presume that we might be able to end violence by being a part of it. Jesus gave us a roadmap and simple directions. Follow me. Do as I do. Don't sell yourself short thinking that only I, the Christ, am capable of doing these things. You are a part of me now and we will do it together as part of the same Body.
Babies teach us that we do not belong to ourselves. They are need freaks. Beautifully, they let us know that we are a part of something greater than ourselves. Individualism is a pretty useless term when it comes to infants. Babies are not independent and it turns out neither are the adults that surround them. Maybe this is part of the reminder of Christmas morning. We don't know much of the story from the time of Jesus' birth until he shows up in the Temple with his parents roughly a decade later, but here's some of how it goes. Mary and Joseph were blessed and burdened to be yoked to him in those years. To care for him, feed him, protect him. That's what it means to be part of the same Body.
The other night about an hour after bedtime my two year old got stuck in the bottom of his sleeping bag. I knew the cry was different, more troubled than usual. Would be have gotten out on his own? I don't know. But when I retrieved him and calmed him down and sang him back to sleep, I was reminded that we are a part of one another. By God's grace we have been grafted together and all the years that this little boy lives, I'll come if he needs me.
Jesus needs us to follow better than we usually do. We may think he is this independent saviour of the universe and solely ascended to the right hand of the Father looking down on us chastisingly. But he is right here, limping with us, crying with us. His body is not whole if we abuse our own and others. He will wait, but we want to get on with healthful living now. Obey his commands. You'll hear them, involuntarily if you habitualize them enough. The best responses of the body are the involuntary responses. I don't have to think my heart into beating. My brain and ticker work that out without any decision on my part. We are seeking habits with Jesus that make the relationship move closer and closer to involuntary responses. Imagine yourself alveoli of the lungs. Breath in and out and listen as the dance carries on day after day and night after night. And trust that God, through the miracle of Resurrection, keeps lungs breathing and hearts pumping even after death. It may be bodily different than that after death, but the bind of the Body cannot be broken. Jesus has made promises to be with us always. On a day that you forget it, open a Bible and read the last sentences in Matthew's Gospel.
For me, some of the toughest work comes in forgiving those who see him differently than I do. Who understand war as part of what he wants. On my better days, their contribution, though different than mine, is all part of God's amazing imagination. He sets up relationships of conflict so that we can be reconciled. What a beautiful and creative way to have different body parts learn to work in concert. Isn't God cool? Know that you are part of God's body today and every day. As Matthew begins my favorite biblical sentence, "REMEMBER."