Do you ever observe strangers talking past each other, people clueless about what is actually happening in their lives, people who seem lost in a very sad way, and it makes you want to cry?
The most profound prayer any of us could ever utter is, to look heavenward and ask, “What do you plan to do about all of these lost people down here, God?” That is what Christmas is about. Christmas is when God decided to do something about what we might call the human problem.
But in order to rescue us from ourselves, God took human form in Jesus to dwell in the world where you and I live, knowing human joys and struggles, “the hopes and fears of all our years.” For only a fully human savior can save us in our full humanity, and redeem every last one of us.
At the same time, in order to do something about the human problem, Jesus was more than human. The Gospel writers struggle after words for this, just as I do. What is Jesus’ human-and-yet-more-than-human quality? An unlikely narrative unfolds at Christmas. It happens through an embarrassing pregnancy and inexplicable signs and wonders. Mystery is afoot in this season.
As baby Jesus grew into the adult Christ, rather than act like everyone else and fit in, instead of minimizing that part of him unlike us, Jesus accentuated it. People hate others willing to differ from them, and that proved true in Jesus’ case. Jesus intensified his oddness, never apologizing for it. He liked to say—and it reveals his internal logic—“You’ve heard it said…but I say to you.”
Jesus was different all right. He didn’t accommodate himself or his message to the limits of the people who saw and heard him. He was a Messiah who avoided the powerful and prestigious so he could focus upon the poor and dispossessed. He revealed a way of life that can only begin by in some measure dying to ourselves and “becoming like a little child” (Matthew 18:3).
Jesus was a savior rejected by the many he came to save, a king who reigned from a cruel cross.
Christmas is a good time to remind ourselves–despite whatever others celebrate–that this story, for all of its strangeness, is true. We affirm that this odd account is a truthful rendering of how our God brought us back into the story God is writing. It is a truthful account not only of who God is, but also how we got lost and how God found us, how we captives were redeemed.
God refused to let our rejection and rebellion (our notorious God problem) be the final word on how things would be between us and God. Why did God become Emmanuel, God-with-us? So God could see his way clear to become God-for-us, rescuing us from ourselves, and our devices.
Jesus the Christ (or Messiah or Anointed One) was a human born in a human family. He liked to go to parties. No one ever accused him of being too pious or too “spiritual.” His critics sneered that he was a vulgar glutton and a drunkard. He was constantly on the move around Galilee. He ran afoul of the government and religious authorities. He taught through penetrating but simple little tales called parables. He performed “signs and wonders.” He died a cruel death reserved for troublemakers. Days after that, his followers insisted he was alive. He had been raised and returned to them. He charged them to carry on his work. All this begins at Christmas.