‘The Reason for the Season’

Posted: December 25, 2019 in Uncategorized

‘The Reason for the Season’

Once upon a time there was a famous painter. He lived at court part of the year, and alone in his hermitage the other part. He loved to paint, everything and anything. He painted for nobles and politicians, for farmers and army commanders and children and royalty, usually whatever they wanted or desired.

He had an uncanny ability to depict things so realistically, his drawings and paintings took your breath away. One day someone asked him: “What are the hardest things to draw and paint?” Unhesitatingly, he answered, “Horses, dogs, cats, insects, and most especially faces of the old and children.”

Those who were listening to the conversation were very surprised. Someone asked: “Well, what is the easiest?” His answer was, “Ghosts, monsters, and especially dragons.”

They were dumbfounded.  A voice piped up, “But why?”

The painter was serious and responded, “Think about it.  What do you see all the time? Common animals, birds, plants and people.  We’re used to them.  They are as familiar as our own hands, and any defect in the drawing is glaringly obvious.  We see it right away.

“Because no one really knows what ghosts and monsters and dragons really look like, I can paint them wildly, fantastically, grotesquely, even amusingly, and everyone is pleased. They have no definite shape. They are loose in our minds. “But people – they are so hard to paint truthfully.”

Here’s another story.

At Christmas, all the rules change. All of us have thought we knew what God looked like. We hear it when people talk following a tragic death of a loved one. We hear it in prayers, and church debates. When the Sallies did their outdoor preaching, we heard it on street corners. We can read it in pamphlets stuffed in our letter boxes by churches using todays media tools in search of people who think like them.

The God we hear of is often, as fantastical, whimsical, or without definite shape, as there are minds to imagine the sacred. At Christmas though, we are given sight of God and or the Sacred, and this God is different and when we dig under all the later trappings we find that this God looks like every mother’s child, every woman and every man ever born. Tradition ally we equate this familiarity with the Roman and Greek Gods who were men given the status and powers of a God. Their prowess be it military or intellect or wisdom was seen to be Godlike so they were therefor Gods. This was gradually rejected by Christianity as the need to differentiate between God’s and a God with greater distance between what was God and what was man became more acceptable and understandable. Today however I want to suggest that the decline in the Christian Church is the rejection of a God that is untouchable, too distant and too supernatural. Perhaps tom much like a ghost or a dragon. Too easy to paint and thus hang on the wall to look at when passing.

The great mystery we are grappling with now is that because God is so familiar, because God looks like every one of us, it is hard to tell who God is. The God who doesn’t deliver has become the God who is too much like us. We are no longer sure whether we are made in God’s image or God is made in ours and we are not sure how to respond to the dilemma. I suggest this might why we are so obsessed with church survival as opposed to expounding the message of Christmas. New rules have arrived and that’s the reason for the season. And to make it more complex these rules don’t just apply to a theological concern; they are about a way of living that flows out of that revelation of difference.

Sometimes discovering the God given moment in ordinary people and daily events can be difficult. The sayings such as ‘see Christ in the face of the poor” “be Christ to those in need” suggest that this unity of God and Human is possible yet they are easier to paint than live it seems

I wonder if the fact that many of us have been taught to expect God  in the spectacular, in the dramatic, in the supernatural might not be part of the dilemma.

If this is how we have been nurtured, then we have to admit, a Christmas which invites us to see an incognito God in the midst of ordinary people and daily events, might be more disturbing of our faith than comforting. When this unknown, unknowable, untouchable God is so intimately close the questions about the importance of belief, the corruptibility of God and the efficacy of humanity tend to emerge

It is here that I think we need to re-visit our understanding of incarnation. Freed from a constructed supernatural verses natural connection we might just move away from a simplistic Sunday school understanding and be able to engage in a more durable, actionable faith journey. This is, perhaps what is meant by incarnation. Perhaps this is God’s justice and peace. Maybe this is God’s presence among us, now.

Let’s come at this another way now.

American theologian Sallie McFague suggests that Christianity is “…the religion of the incarnation par excellence.  Its earliest and most persistent doctrines focus on embodiment”. Incarnation is embodiment. Australian David Tacey concludes, the new spirituality brewing within society at the moment, will “…truly be revealed as the mystery and silence at the heart of everything we do and feel.  God will not be proud, haughty or exalted but, rather, every-day, horizontal and earthly”.

While just for good measure… historian Clement Miles suggests: “The God of Christmas is no ethereal form, no mere spiritual essence, but a very human child, feeling the cold and the roughness of the straw, needing to be warmed and fed and cherished.  Christmas is the festival of the natural body, of this world; it means the consecration of the ordinary things of life, affection and comradeship, eating and drinking and merry-making…”

And let’s not presume that this challenge to rethink the incarnation is anything new. More than 600 years ago, a male Catholic Christian mystic and theologian asked: “What good is it to me if Mary gave birth to the son of God 1400 years ago and I do not also give birth to the son of God in my time and in my culture?”

The mystic was Meister Eckhart and he was certainly not a fundamentalist. His theology was a way of talking about lively realities. He was also talking metaphorical, not only about “son of God,” but also and startlingly about “give birth.”

His question is as sound and as solid as I could imagine, even these long centuries later. Because Eckhart’s query is about birthing new qualities into a waiting world that needs them. Not through some other source on its own, but also through us, in the place we each uniquely are.

I think this is both the promise and the provocative challenge of Christmas. So maybe this Christmas, amid the wrapping paper we are filling the rubbish bins with and the ham, chicken and turkey bones we are wrapping and discarding and the empty wine bottles we are recycling we might become sensitive to the opportunities in each present moment, when our God is in the midst of ordinary people and daily events.

Maybe then we might encourage the Loving God who acts in us, and the God in other people who receive our loving actions.

And the challenge might be to see that a God in us cannot but love the God in the other, and this is the reason for the season. Amen.

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