A Real Christmas Story, ‘Almost’, an Infatuation with the Possible.

Posted: December 24, 2021 in Uncategorized

A Real Christmas Story, ‘Almost’, an Infatuation with the Possible.

The end of a Christian year, or the beginning of a new one or the whole story in one event? Most of us struggle with the idea that belief is an acceptance of and a need to defend some sort of fixed un-challengeable truth, a once and for all matter upon which to stand, but what if belief is just one part of a dichotomy?  What if belief is one half of that which is belief and unbelief and that without one, we do not have the other? What happens to truth then? If the Christmas story is not about how God became Jesus or how Jesus became God but rather about how human beings create God, are as the story goes how human beings are made in the image of God. I apologize for dumping such a huge topic on the reader but I do think we need to do our theology if we are to understand Christmas. For me theology signifies a passion in which everything is at stake, and so is always challenging, always radical as the logos of a passion, the logos of a desire for God, the logos of a prayer. The desire for God—that I think is the root of the trouble all theologians bring upon themselves. They take God, the name of God, what is happening in the name of God, as their subject matter. Theology I suggest is with or without religion or what ordinarily passes for theology is important because the name of God is too important to leave in the hands of the special interest groups. I think as I hope my memoir illustrates; I own up to a theological desire and a “desiring theology,” which is undeniably a desire for God, for something astir in the name of God, a desire for something I know not what, for which I pray night and day. I think I am praying for an event that is the ‘Almost’ that the naming points tom but cannot deliver. It is not enough to say I believe; I am a follower of Jesus, I am a Christian; one has to live it, one has to think it in to existence, one has to understand the so-called kingdom of God as a Way of living, a Way or being more fully human. I think Jung called this the individuation of God and of humankind. I might say it as doing one’s theology is living it as a dynamic creative event that is our participation in the cosmic evolutionary process or event in a way that is the uncontrollable, unconditional dynamic event that is God. The ‘I am in Hebrew, The Messianic Christ in Greek.

Like Jack Caputo I too think that this God, divine/human event is not found in the recent traditional almighty, omnipotent, omnipresent, God nor is the nature influenced pantheistic approach but is hinted at in the panentheistic one. By that I mean God is not everything but closer in understanding to being God is in everything. Here again we have what I think is the need for one to do their theology as its task is to release what is happening in that name, to set it free, to give it its own head, and thereby to head off the forces that would prevent the event. The way I think we might approach this task is theology and the event, a theology of the event, and a prayer for the event of theology. Obviously, then, everything turns on explaining what we mean by an “event” and how it is related to a name. However, I want to suggest that at the core of the event we name God is its Uncontainability and thus its vulnerability and what is termed its unconditional love. In Christmas terms the serendipitous fragile, unpredictable vulnerable and thus weakness of human creation as the image of God’s serendipitous fragile, unpredictable and thus weak existence. If we do nor create the name God the event of God will not exist but it will insist, the human desire of God will not be on the path to individuation or completion. The ‘Almost’ will remain as that which might be and not that which is about to be.

But back to the weakness that is our God. Like others I want to caution the reliance upon classical theology and philosophy that gives us the fundamental structure of the objective being, and makes exclusive claim to interpretation as being of a weak thought. It relies on method as attaining certitude and dismisses weakness as wishy washy, open ended and heralds black and white, absolute or relativist, or my way is right frame of mind and belittles serendipitous, perception and flexible insight as unhelpful. What of ambiguity, uncertainty, wholistic thinking, insightful complexity the unexpected and the unconditional are more important or at least as important. What if a weak God is more akin the humanity and vice versa? What if the miraculous birth of a human child in the baby Jesus with all its precipitous existence as a human child is the message of the image of a God? As the cartoon goes: How does a benevolent God allow his Son to die so that the rest of us sinners can live, and why the heck did he have to die to save God’s creation in the first place? The only explanation has to be that this that which we call God is weak like us in the first place and the story is about that weakness as where we find this thing, we call the realm of this God. Again; maybe this weakness is the ‘Almost-ness’ the unconditional eternal divinity that is the desire or the insistence that is human life.

This idea of a weak God is a big task to grasp in itself but its strength of argument is in its un-containability. Names contain events and give them a kind of temporary shelter by housing them within a relatively stable nominal unity. Events, on the other hand, are uncontainable, and they make names restless with promise and the future, with memory and the past, with the result that names contain what they cannot contain. Names belong to natural languages and are historically constituted or constructed, whereas events are a little unnatural, eerie, ghostly thing that haunt names and see to it that they never rest in peace. Maybe that’s why names can never give all there is to know about something or someone. They are events and as such are never containable by a name. An event is distinguished from a simple occurrence by reason of its polyvalence, complexity, and undecidability, by its endless name-ability by other names equally eventful. Names are endlessly translatable, whereas events are what names are trying to translate, not in the sense of an inner semantic essence to be transferred, but in the sense of carrying (ferre) themselves toward (trans) the event, like runners.

Another way of thinking about this weakness I am on about it the horrible results of the world as it tries to deal with the extremes in thinking. The extremes in their objectivism create an either/or dilemma and resolution invariably is seen as a reluctant compromise or a destructive win by the more powerful on the other. What that, reveals are that the so-called absolutes that win have an identifiable pedigree, that is that they are always conditioned constructions trying to pass themselves off as have been dropped form the sky as divine righteousness. They must be right because they won is born out of the fear of weakness and relativism whereas evidence shows that the worst violence ensues, not from hermeneutics, but rather from resisting hermeneutics or when someone confuses themselves with God which weak thought would discourage on the grounds that it is a very dangerous illusion. When one thinks one has a handle of God, God disappears. One might say that the Easter story is the reminder that the high and mighty God dies on the human cross of violence and the Christmas story is the reminder that the sense of freedom, equality, incarnate the divine life in the birth of a human child born into the world tent, in the world, in the depths of ethical and political life, where the world is busy making the name of God come true in the event of life. And here is the hard one. This world this so-called secular world is the realization of the kingdom of God. The secular is not the obliteration of the kingdom but rather the theology of the age.

In simple terms I can justify this position for theology by saying that Jesus in his time did his theology, in his temple experience he serves as a model for growing up and growing in wisdom. One overseas colleague puts it like this: “On the verge of adulthood, Jesus retreats to the temple for theological reflection and questioning…  (His) three days in the temple were a pivotal point in his spiritual evolution.  Jesus grew in spiritual stature by claiming his faith tradition faithfully and then extending its experiential and theological boundaries to new horizons” (BEpperly. P&F Lectionary web site, 2006).

So, the Christmas story invites us in our imaginations for a moment. The child Jesus grew into a mature adult, filled with wisdom, and God regarded him favourably… And to do so the biblical storytellers tell us very little other than implying that Jesus managed to complete the complex, intricate, mostly mysterious process of growing up. From being a helpless baby, he progressed to adulthood, where he was capable of holding down a job, making and keeping friends, theorizing about the origins of things, separating fancy from fact, getting angry without having to hurt others, caring for others without needing to possess them (Purdy 1993). In him both nature and nurture did their necessary work. “The child Jesus grew into a mature adult, filled with wisdom, and God regarded him favourably…”

And Jesus discovered that a fool and his money are soon parted, the love of money is the root of many evils, you cannot tell a book by its cover. He learned that power corrupts, that an army marches on its stomach, and if you would teach a hungry man, first you had better feed him (Purdy 1993). He learned that sin and sickness are not necessarily the two sides of the same coin, that the devil can quote scripture, and a smile sometimes is a mask for hate. Through all this “The child Jesus grew into a mature adult, filled with wisdom, and God regarded him favourably…”

Our storyteller Luke is very sketchy on the detail. Indeed, we have only the barest of fragments or outline. We have to fill in that outline with what we know about childhood. Because the only childhood truly accessible to us is our own. To live life to the full to love wastefully. To be all that we can be… paraphrasing Bishop Jack Spong, can be challenging and risky business. Yet we are reminded by British theologian and (another) retired bishop, John Tinsley, when he wrote in one of his pastoral letters more than 20 years ago: “A lot of our endeavour (as church) has gone into taking the risk out of faith… We try to create a hideout for faith where we can be unperturbed” (Tinsley 1990:438-39).  Ny implication we can say that our congregations can become hideouts for some of us. They can enable us to forget that we always live on the edge of something new. That is the risk and the weakness that is our strength. That’s the risk of a misconception of power as might, control, certainty. It disallows the serendipitous, the ambiguous, the unexpected, the surprising and ultimately the unconditional nature of love. To live on the edge of something new is the Christmas story. How we meet that ‘risk’ or that ‘new’ is an important interpretation of the Christmas story.

“Growing in wisdom and stature calls us to take our faith seriously enough to study scripture, wrestle with traditional theological doctrines, explore new images of God, Christ, and salvation, and spend time in prayer, meditation, and service.  A growing faith is not accidental, but requires going to our own spiritual ‘temple’ regularly to listen, ask, and share. Even Jesus was unfinished and incomplete” (B Epperly. P&F Lectionary web site, 2006).

So here it is the first Sunday after Christmas reflecting on its meaning and seeing it as a reminder to greet the new horizons in this coming year and in our own particular situations,
to see the ‘Almost’ in anew light. To see the almost as an invitation to join in the event that it reveals, he opportunity to be infatuated with the possible” without which our congregational and personal life is just unthinkable. And then maybe it can be said of us all: These people… these congregations, grew into a mature adulthood, filled with wisdom, and God regarded them favourably…

Cox H. 1964.  On Not Leaving it to the Snake. New York. Macmillan
Purdy J C. 1993.  God with a Human Face. Louisville. Westminster/John Knox.
Tinsley J. 1990. Tell it slant. The Christian Gospel and its Communication. Bristol. Wyndham Hall Press.


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