By Rev. Paul Graves
Note to readers: This post is one of an ongoing series of letters I’ve written to our grandchildren for over 20 years. It was originally published in The Spokesman-Review a few days after Christmas.
Dear Katie, Claire and Andy,
It’s been too long since I wrote to you about some aspects of faith and values. Three days after the traditional birthdate of Jesus seems like a good time to reconnect with you this way. It seems like only last week I was writing letters to you as the children you were. Not anymore!
Each of you is a young adult, preparing to contribute who you are to your community and our society. I’m humbly happy to cheer you on!
Part of that preparation is your deciding which beliefs you need to reshape to fit your maturing understanding of life. Let’s consider Christmas in that context.
It’s so easy to only embrace a sentimental understanding of Christmas, of “waiting for the baby Jesus” and all that involves. But maturing adults also do well to appreciate the deeper message of Christmas. It comes in the word “incarnation” – God became flesh in the person we call Jesus. First the baby, but definitively the man.
Franciscan monk Richard Rohr says it so clearly: “In Jesus’ birth, God was saying that it was good to be human and God was on our side.” Given the struggles we all seem to have to honor the deepest goodness in ourselves or other people, that message is a must for our souls.
God wants us to mature in our spiritual growth. That means we must let the baby Jesus grow up into the compassionate but revolutionary man the Gospels reveal him to be. And that suggests we do well to go back to before Jesus is born, to the story in Luke 1:39-56, where Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth.
They are both pregnant (Elizabeth will birth John the Baptist). Mary breaks out in song at one point, repeating an ancient Hebrew song of Hannah as she rejoices over the birth of her son Samuel (I Sam. 2:1-10). Christian tradition calls Mary’s song “The Magnificat,” for she begins “My soul magnifies the Lord … ”
Both songs go on to thank God for how God will heal the wounded, feed the hungry, humble the proud and materially selfish. In effect, God will rebalance the inequities of human society. A very tall order, don’t you think? How might God pull that off?
Again we’re drawn back to God’s Incarnation we call Jesus. Not just the baby, kids, but the man whose life and ministry embodied the goodness and compassion God intends for all persons to embody.
One of the theological word games many people play is to verbally separate Jesus’ divinity from his humanity.
For people who think only in either-or terms, that works. If incompletely.
But God’s Incarnation isn’t an either-or event. Incarnation means that human and divine are part of the same package. And an even more revolutionary thought? Jesus isn’t the only embodiment of God. Each of us is also!
So, what do we do with that concept? It may be a breathtaker for you. I hope it is. Find your breath. Then look more carefully at how Jesus embodies, for yourselves, both divine and human capabilities.
That notion takes me to look at the revolutionary, radical (root-deep) truths found in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew, chapters 5-7). In those wisdom sayings and in Jesus’ interactions with disciples, followers and foes alike, he embodied the actions that all of us are challenged to embody.
Most are difficult to do. All can stretch our spirits to a breaking point. But all are essential if we’re ready to let the baby Jesus grow up to teach us how our own humanness can thrive!
The Rev. Paul Graves serves as the chair for the Council on Older Adult Ministries for the Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Methodist Church.