Advent Carols 2013, Robinson College Chapel
An unchurched teenager in London heard the Christmas story for the first time in a Religious Studies lesson – and appreciating the story, quietly asked the teacher at the end of the lesson, “why did they give the baby a swear-word for a name?”
That teenager was probably much closer to the truth of Christmas than most theologians. The incarnation is the belief that the God of heaven and earth becomes human, the Word became flesh. But what kind of flesh? The fact is that the director general of the multiverse became a “chav”, the Almighty Lord of time and space – became ”trailer trash,” the underprivileged outsider from a feral underclass. That is who this Jesus is, and according to scripture – God points at him and says, “that’s exactly who I am.”
Most Christians tend to miss the radical implications of God becoming so intolerably fragile. The majority assume that an All-Powerful God is not so much revealed as concealed in the person of Christ: The omnipotent God, we are told, does not show himself, but disguises himself as a weak and vulnerable peasant; the monarch of heaven does not express his power, but suppresses it in order to become human; Jesus is not the ‘Word become flesh’, he is only ‘veiled in flesh.’
The life of Jesus becomes an act of divine espionage, in which God becomes something other than he really is in order to infiltrate the ranks of humanity. No The true story of Christmas is that the powerless, self-giving, political love embodied in this fragile Christ – is precisely how God runs the universe. This is a god whose fragile beauty reveals itself as ultimately more powerful than any cosmic tyrant could hope to be.
This term we have looked at the relationship between Science and Religion – and at Christmas – Christians celebrate the belief that the mechanics of the universe, the substructure of cosmos, are somehow revealed in who this child is and how he lived: this baby would drastically redefine what it means to be powerful, and great, and majestic and what it means to govern well. So it’s little wonder he defied expectations, and it’s little wonder he sparked a revolution, and it’s little wonder that within a generation of his own death his name had become a term of contempt.
That London teenager was onto something important – because only as we grapple with why Jesus became a swear-word, do we begin to get a true glimpse at what Christmas really is.