I love Christmas. I hate Christmas.
I love Christmas for the spirit of goodwill in the air. I love the silver bells and holly wreaths. I love coloured lights shining through the long winter nights. I love the generosity that causes friends, and even relative strangers, to make little gift baskets of shortbread and Nanaimo bars.
I love that people actually sing at Christmas. I don’t care whether it’s “Here Comes Santa Claus” or “Silent Night.” We don’t need song sheets; we know the words, and even those who claim to be non-singers can join in.
And I love that some people still feel motivated to actually write a Christmas message, in a card, by hand and post it. Even if I, personally, take the easy way out and send my Christmas letters by email.
On the other hand, I hate shopping. I resent the pressure from endless advertisers to buy something bigger, better, more expensive to show how much I care. I dislike traffic jams and packed parking lots.
I’m sentimental, but I loathe saccharine sentiment slopped on with a shovel.
When I was young, I loved deep fluffy snow. I ran around in it, made snow angels in it, whooshed down slopes on toboggans and sleds, often crashing at the bottom, emerging
from a fog of snowflakes like Frosty the Snowman.
Now I just bundle up against the cold.
But what I like most about Christmas, I think, is that it forces me to examine my beliefs.
I call myself a Christian (though I’m sure some would think me a humanist at best, an atheist at worst). Certainly, I come from a Christian tradition.
And Christian tradition has asserted, for many centuries, that God was born as a human baby. We call him Jesus. Other cultures call him Jesu, or Yeshua, or some other name that I don’t know.
Think about the sheer audacity of that claim. God became human! God didn’t just pretend to become human. God didn’t put on a human mask and go around in disguise. God became a human. A very specific human.
I could well be wrong here, but that claim seems to me to be unique among world religions. They also declare that their founders were historical humans: Mohammed, Siddhartha Gautama, Baha’u’llah, Confucius, Guru Nanak, Lao Tzu…
But they would see that person as God’s interpreter, intermediary, or prophet – the one who channels divine wisdom to the rest of us.
Not as God embodied.
Theologians love big words. They call this radical act “Incarnation.” It comes from a Latin word for “meat” – which also shows up in “carnivorous” – meaning to become flesh and blood. Just like us.
I don’t pretend to know what God is. For some, God is unconditional love. For others, God is a ruthless judge, an invisible accountant keeping track of naughty and nice, handing out rewards for good behaviour (heaven) or bad behaviour (hell).
And if I did offer a definition, it could only be partial. Because I believe God is more than anything I can reduce to mere words.
But if I want to know what God is like, I need only look at Jesus. What did Jesus do? How did Jesus live? What did Jesus try to teach his followers? How did those followers live?
That’s the radical implication of the Incarnation – God is not something separate, different, from Jesus.
A former moderator of the United Church of Canada, the Korean Dr. Sang Chul Lee, told of reading the Bible in prison. He said he was captivated by the personality of this man Jesus.
Unlike Dr. Lee, I grew up with Jesus. But now, as I grow older, I realize how much I have taken Jesus for granted, all these years.
Now the Incarnation has become central to my theology.
The Incarnation tells me not only what God is like, but how God does things. God does not act from a distance, hurling thunderbolts like Zeus or pulling strings like a puppeteer.
Rather, God gets involved. God chooses to be embodied. Incarnated. To become a living being. In us. As us.
Somewhere in her memoir Eat Pray Love, author Elizabeth Gilbert coined the phrase: “God dwells within me. As me.”
The prepositions matter. Not just LIKE us. AS us.
Every winter, the Christmas story tells me that’s how God does things. God chooses to be born, as one of us, born again and again.
Jim Taylor is an Okanagan Centre author and freelance journalist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org