The God-child, the child-God

Baby Jesus

Baby Jesus

Advent 4

Hebrews 10:5-10

Marian Free

 

In the name of God, who as Jesus, became fully human in order to fully redeem human beings. Amen.

There is a television programme which I do not watch, but which I have caught glimpses of in advertisements. It is called something like: Our embarrassing bodies. From what I can glean from the promotions it is about ghastly and disfiguring afflictions and, I presume, it is about ways to deal with them. It is a reminder that the human body is a fascinating and complex organism and it has many parts, functions and characteristics that we tend to consider unspeakable, embarrassing and even disgusting.

Somehow, it is much easier to believe that baby Jesus is a real baby than it is to accept that the adult Jesus was flesh and blood like us.  It is difficult to accept that God could really inhabit a human body, to believe that Jess really did experience all the bodily functions. It would be more palatable to imagine that Jesus, even as a human being somehow occupied a different plane form the rest of us, that somehow his humanity was tempered by a body that didn’t behave in the same way as ours – that Jesus had no primal urges, that he didn’t sweat or burp or do anything that might be considered improper or unbecoming.

The problem of Jesus’ humanity is not a new one. The early church was torn apart by controversy regarding the nature of Jesus. There were some who thought Jesus was just a supremely virtuous person whom God adopted as the “Son of God”. Others believed that Jesus remained God even though he appeared to be human. Still others thought that it was only when he was resurrected from the dead that the human Jesus became God.

In the fourth century matters were brought to a head by a popular preacher from Libya called Arius who denied the divinity of Christ. His ideas were so compelling that they convinced many of the bishops of the time. The Emperor, Constantine was so dismayed by the disunity in the church that he called the Council of Nicea and demanded that the bishops come to some agreement as to what Christians believed. The result was the declaration expressed in the Nicean Creed that:“ We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one being with the Father through him all things were made … he was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly human”.

Jesus’ fleshly nature was already an essential component of New Testament theology – it was not an invention of the Council of Nicea. Writers as different as the apostle Paul, the writer of the gospel of John and the author of the book of Hebrews all attest to an early belief that Jesus truly inhabited human flesh, just as he was truly God on earth.

That Jesus was fully human, that he did really take on human flesh is important for a number of reasons which are different but complementary.

It was only as a human being that Jesus could work salvation for humankind. The obedience of the human Jesus’ was the only way to undo Adam’s disobedience. In the flesh, Jesus was able to redeem the flesh. By taking on human form, Jesus demonstrated that it is possible for human beings to be all that God created us to be. If Jesus as fully human can submit to God, we know it is not our flesh that prevents us from being obedient, but what we choose to do with it. Jesus’ humanity reminds us that, despite all the evidence to the contrary, human beings, inhabiting human flesh can be truly godly.

The fact that Jesus became fully human means that Jesus redeemed human flesh with all its weaknesses, its urges and its passions. Jesus’ humanity is evidence that our whole person is redeemed not just that part of us which might consider untainted and sinless. Our whole person is redeemed not just a part of it. Jesus’ being fully human demonstrates that God values our physicality as well as our divinity.

Jesus’ becoming human confirms that we cannot pay God off or placate God with sacrifices. God wants us – heart, soul and body not our deeds or our gifts. Jesus as a human being gave his whole self and showed that we should give nothing less.

As we come to the end of Advent and enter into the season of Christmas, we come face to face with the child in the manger. It is not difficult to identify the baby Jesus as a real baby.  The challenge that faces us year after year is to accept that the real child in the cradle grows into a real human being – a human being with longings and desires, weaknesses and strengths, just like us.

As Jesus became one with us, so we should strive to become one with him, and through him become agents of redemption in the world.

 

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