By lex, on December 25th, 2008
Amature philosophical/religious musings after the jump, for those who care for that sort of thing.
So, we were in church last night singing the old hymns of joy and wonder, when the thought crept into my mind – like it does every year around this time – “what kind of God is this?”
Even for many who acknowledge any of the several of the “proofs” of the existence of God – cosmological, teleological, and ontological as well as the anthropic, moral and transcendental arguments in favor of a divine existence – it still doesn’t necessarily explain the physical presence of the baby Jesus in that manger, wearing swaddling clothes. Needing to keep warm against the winter blasts, wearing – one intuits – diapers. Which undoubtedly, in time, needed laundering.
The OT vision of God that came down to our time is one of a distant, all-powerful being, a lawgiver and deliverer of stern retribution. He’d have to be a pretty impressive being – that thing greater than which no thing is – to have set all this in motion. Hard to visualize him in dirty diapers.
To the believer, the story of the virgin birth – a concept so challenging to materialists, and the hinge upon which many a secularist parts company with the faithful to find his own moral way (a path that often, happily, seems to track nicely with his personal preferences) – is waved away with the stock (if not necessarily satisfying) explanation that, “With God, all things are possible.”
Well, OK – but why? What’s the point?
Keeping in mind that the ultimate Paschal Sacrifice is still three decades off, the concept of a God-made-flesh walking the green for all that time even as God the Father is tending the garden everywhere else (don’t get me started on the Holy Spirit) can be a challenging one, hence the tendency for the other great monotheistic faiths either hew to what they knew or else radically simplify the whole thing.
Rather than a distant Being, impassive when not stirred to wrath, we have a mensch tradesman in a backwater patch of the Roman Empire, teaching and preaching in time, changing water into wine, confounding his critics, raising the dead and dining on a bit of bread before offering himself to suffering and death. Close in, so close you could touch him. You could even betray him, if you chose to: With a kiss. So tangibly real that those who followed him in life defied all powers secular and clerical to follow him even unto their own deaths.
Fully God and fully man.
A man whose example changed this world and whose sacrifice promised to open up another. Not a brooding figure somewhere “up there”, but a real being, even – transitionally – mortal. A man whose example still inspires 2000 years after his death, which we know of, and his resurrection, which we hope in. A man just that little bit better than we are; wiser, nobler, kinder.
That’s the challenge of that baby lying in a manger, wrapped in bands. That’s what makes it hard. The knowledge that power to be more like God, to be better than we are, lies not in His essential nature but in what we choose to do, how we freely act – or fail to – in order to be “nearer, my God, to thee.”
I think that was the point.