The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
Those who who lived in a land of deep darkness –
on them light has shone. (Isaiah 9:2)
These words are the first we hear in the readings of the Feast of Christmas. And what words they are. They truly are “for us.” In the midst of winter gloom when darkness comes early and the light of day is short, when winds blow cold and the snow and ice lie on the frigid, frosted ground we long for the warmth and sunlight of summer. But the darkness and cold can often be seen as an image of the great challenges of our lives. War and violence, injustice and oppression, suffering and pain, inequities and abuse of power - these are experiences of darkness marking our very humanity. They prey on the weaknesses and vulnerability of all humanity. Advent – Christmas issues a cry of hope. The images and stories bring light, promise and hope. They touch more than our winter season. More importantly, they reach out to our heart and soul, the heart and soul of all humanity.
There are times when we and our world are the people who walked in darkness and we certainly seek and hope to become the ones on whom light has shone. This is the promise of Christmas and the Feast of the Incarnation. For it is this feast which speaks to us of Emmanuel, that is, God-is-with-us. Do we really believe this – in our heart and soul?
God has always been with us. The People of God, Israel was firm in their faith that God was always with them. The great act of God for them was in the liberation of the People from slavery through the Exodus. But God was with them even before this, even in slavery and captivity, in threat and in exile. The prophets, like Isaiah proclaimed this presence of the living God for them again and again. Quite beyond the People of Israel, God’s presence has been witnessed and acknowledged among the many peoples of the earth – in the challenges and the wonders of life and creation. But now, in the Incarnation, we see a new hope and promise, a new way of knowing God-is-with-us.
Perhaps there are times when we regard Jesus as someone who was born long ago in a simple way and who lived for a while and did marvellous things. He was a great teacher, a moral leader, a charismatic person who gathered many followers. And then he was gone. In some way his influence continues in those who see themselves as his followers. All of this is quite true. But really, Incarnation means more than this.
Jesus, the Christ is God sharing in our flesh, joining our humanity, living in our world, not for a brief period of one lifetime, but forever. The moment in Bethlehem, in the meagre circumstances of Jesus’ birth was a moment that revealed God’s very special touch for us. But it was more than a moment. With Bethlehem and the birth of Jesus, the coming of the Christ into humanity, God continues to be with us in this incarnational way, sharing our flesh and blood. Beyond the ways in which God has been present from the very beginning, as giver and sustainer of life in all Creation, now God is present as a sharer of the humanity which we have, that all the peoples of the earth share. The great wonder of the Incarnation is that it continues,... NOW.
So what? What does all this mean for me? What difference does it make for our world? God continues to be a light for the darkness, the hope and the promise for all humanity and creation. Once having entered our world by sharing our humanity, God continues to be present in the Body of Christ. This “Body of Christ” is us, you and I, all Christians of all times, all the peoples of the earth who share our humanness and with whom God has shared humanness in Jesus the Christ. Humanity is truly the Body of Christ. We are the ongoing incarnation of God, the flesh and blood through whom God enters our world now. Hope for our world!