A Theology of Christmas
by Chris TerryNelson
Why do we celebrate Christmas? The birth of Jesus.
The birth. The beginning of life. Which means Jesus was born as a human being … specifically, as a baby.
Luke 2:1 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (NRSV)
So he didn’t come out as a man, but as a baby. Now, how would you describe a baby? What is a baby? “A tiny fragile human being. Can’t talk. Can’t feed itself.”
What do you feel when you’re around babies? How do they make you feel when you hold them? What goes through your mind? Maybe some of you remember holding a little brother or sister for the first time.
Now, what do you remember about being a baby? Nothing probably. The thing is, as a baby, you can’t remember anything. Most of you probably have little to no memory of what happened to you before you were four years old. That’s because your brain is changing so rapidly, learning all these new things like how to walk and how to talk that memory doesn’t really happen till later.
All of us were babies at some point. We were tiny, fragile, breakable, crying, wailing, rash covered poopy little things. And somebody had to help us out, from the moment we were born. We could not help ourselves.
God could not help God’s self, because God was a baby.
What does that say about God? To me, it says that we need to think about God differently. I don’t know about you, but when I was growing up, God was always pictured as this old man with a gray beard, kind of like Gandalf. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like Gandalf. He hugs the hobbits, takes care of them. Maybe you have a grandpa like that, and that’s how you’ve known God to be. But I also picture this loving God as also extremely powerful – he can’t get hurt.
But now that you’re getting older, I want you to imagine God is something tiny, just like you were. Tiny, fragile, needy, vulnerable. Jesus was vulnerable. God was vulnerable. God can get hurt. God is born into the world and cannot speak, cannot eat, cannot do anything for himself. God needs Mary and Joseph. God needs food, water, clothing, shelter. God needs to be loved. And the risky thing is that, in this world, God might not get it!
Now let me ask you a question – do these needs ever go away when you get older? Do you stop needing help? Do you stop needing food, water, clothing, shelter, and love? No. You might learn how to better get these things, but you still might not get them. You might get hurt. That’s what this world is like.
And God decided to come live in it anyway. God could have been all-powerful, but God decided to take the risk of getting hurt, of being vulnerable.
Which begs the question: did God become Superman? No. Did God become Batman? No. God has no superpowers, like Superman does. And God has no money to build cool gadgets, like Batman does. God comes down as a poor Palestinian Jewish boy, who will learn how to be a carpenter. Nothing special really.
Now, I want you to think about what you would do if you were God, and you could be in control of what you would be born as. Who would you become? Would you be Batman or Catwoman? Would you be Superman or Superwoman?
But, like all superheroes, the truth is that there’s someone behind the mask. Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne – these people were babies once too. Human beings. And what’s so fascinating about Jesus is that he is not a superhero. There is no mask. There is simply a vulnerable human being. Maybe that’s what sets him apart. God is born as a human being, and that means as a baby. Is a baby good-looking? Does a baby have superpowers? Does a baby get all the girls or all the boys (ok, yes, they are cute and get lots of attention). Does a baby have anything to offer the world? No. No wisdom, no skills, nothing. Just pure need, and the fear of not getting that need met.
God became that baby, that part of us that is just pure need, which means God loved that part of us, just as God loved that part of himself.
Which leads me to ask you: if you were God, would choose to come down as… you? No mask, no superpowers, no superwealth to create lots of amazing gadgets. Just… you. Baby you, toddler you, little elementary school you, middle school you, high school you.
As some of you know, the Gospel of John talks about being “born again.” What Jesus is talking about is this: are you willing to believe that God loves who you are, right here, right now, all of you: your bad memories, your bad dreams, your warts, scabs, pimples, your fears, needs, failures, crimes, pains, secrets, addictions, hurts, traumas, as well as all of your body-size, hair color, physical and mental disabilities, your lack of possessions, talent, money? Do you believe this so much that you would be willing to love yourself as the person that you are, such that, if you were God, and you could choose to be born, you would do it all again to become the person that you are?
I admit – I spend most of my time wishing that I could be someone else. Someone better, stronger, faster. And I envy people who are better, stronger, faster, more beautiful than I am. I wish I had abs like in 300, and I wish I could read 600 words a minute. But I don’t. What I really wish is that I could be loved for who I am.
And what Christmas is all about is that God says “yes.” Yes to our humanity, to our fragility, to our vulnerability, to our imperfection. The question is: will you say it to yourself, as the person that you are?
My hope is that, during this weekend, you will be loved and cared for by others, by those you know really well, those you kind of know, and those who are complete strangers. I also hope you will show that love and care to others. But the adventure of a lifetime all comes back to this: would you love yourself so much that you’d be willing to be yourself all over again?
Because everything that you are, everything that you feel, everything that you think, everything that you say and don’t say – it all belongs. In the same way that God came to live among us in the flesh through Jesus, God says yes to your body, to your mind, to your heart, to your soul, and says “I already live in you. The question is: will you live in you?”
My hope and my prayer is that we will all live as the people that we already are – this weekend, and as we go home.