Christmas Morning 2016

Maestro della Natività di Castello c. 1450, National Gallery, London
Maestro della Natività di Castello c. 1450, National Gallery, London

‘Today a Saviour has been born to us. He is Christ the Lord.’ These words, or variants of them, will resound again and again thoughout the Christmas Octave; so too will ‘The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.’ Which is harder to say? To accept that God, creator of the universe, of all that is, has such infinite love and tenderness for his creation that he willed to undergo birth and death for our sakes in the person of Jesus Christ, or to affirm that this same God, the utterly transcendent, all-Holy One, is to be adored in his flesh and blood reality? How shall we approach the mystery of the Incarnation today, in the humdrum circumstances of our own lives? How do we ensure that there is no discrepancy between what we believe and what we actually say?

We know that the Eucharist is at the centre of this great feast and is intimately linked to our understanding of the Incarnation. So far so good, but then we stumble. In articulating our theology of the Eucharist we sometimes forget that we are not talking about a theoretical mode of being but a living, dynamic Presence. In much the same way, we accept that we need a Saviour or affirm that the Word became flesh without fully understanding or ‘feeling’ the truth of what we are saying. We tie ourselves up in knots, and I am not sure that is either necessary or helpful.

The painting used at the top of this post is very far from being realistic. It is, in fact, profoundly theological in both aim and execution. Nevertheless, I think it helps with the difficulty I have identified because it is a powerful reminder that the Incarnation is not an abstraction. We worship a God who has become man in Jesus Christ, and not just any man, but one particular man. On Christmas morning there is no need to cudgel our brains. The heart sees, and sees clearly. Let us allow ourselves time to absorb the wonder of this coming of Christ into the world in which we live. However uncertain we may feel our faith to be, however conscious of sin and failure we are, Christ comes to us today as our Saviour — our Saviour, yours and mine — and he will never, ever be parted from us.

A blessed Christmas to you all.

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