The Rev. Lyndon Shakespeare
Christmas is a celebration about material life; that is, Christmas declares that God thought it fitting to take up the material life that you and I share, and make it God’s. This at first might sound rather odd. After all, the point of coming to church on Christmas is to dwell on ‘spiritual things,’ right? Well, sure, except that God seems little interested in ‘spiritual things’ this day. The world did not receive on that first Christmas morning a reinvigorated sense of niceness, or a renewed desire to be generous; no, what the world received on Christmas was God in the flesh, a babe born to Mary and Joseph, the hope and salvation of the world in the limbs and sinews of flesh and blood. In Jesus, God became material.
Of course, when it comes to how God relates to material life, and how we relate to material life, we discover God is far more materialistic than we are, even on our worst day. Whereas God is perfectly present, perfectly in touch with this world of stone and glass, bodies and buses, we, on the other hand, become too quickly detached from people and things, moving on to who we consider a more important person or a more impressive item to possess. In our market economy, our connection to things and people become more tenuous the more products we own and the more our desire grows in us for more at low, low prices. While God is happy to be joined with human nature and be born at the edge of civilization, we are like restless souls unable to attach to anything meaningful.
Despite our longings, our better nature decries this age as consumerist and materialist—and this is quite fair—yet the proclamation of Christmas is that God has become the chief materialist of all. The words of St. Augustine sound the right note here: what better sign of God’s love than that his Son deigned to share our human existence. Is there anything more material than human flesh?
Where Christian confession is most instructive on this holy day is in inviting us out of a life of detachment from creation—a life of being a people who desire nothing else than to consume and discard—and into a life of wholeness where our desires find their true end in the superabundant life of God (W. T. Cavanaugh, “When Enough Is Enough,” Sojourners 2005). Life with God is a life of attachment to all that God has deemed good. As Christians, we have no better vision of what human life looks like when it shares in the life of God than that of the babe born to Mary, “the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” In Jesus, we witness the hope of human existence.
The miracle of Christmas for us this evening is not that we become peaceful and generous for a day, but that God sought our eternal company, and made us his friends through the flesh of his Son. From the womb of Mary, the songs of angels, the witness of shepherds, the proclamation of Christmas strikes a tone of wonder and amazement that our frail existence would become the site of God’s gracious activity. This is why we gather to celebrate the birth of Christ. In him, we meet the God who from the beginning of time has loved the stuff of creation so much that he was willing to become flesh. In so doing, God opens the way for us to share forever in the one thing that best compliments material life—and that is life with God, a life of true wellbeing and joy.