God’s humour and wisdom stands out in the Christmas narrative with his response to the question: Where is God? He is in the midst of nobodies accompanied by livestock in some back-alley stable reeking of camel dung and sewage.
Pleased as man with man to dwell Jesus, our Emmanuel2!
The glory of Christ’s immanence3 penetrates even the stinkhole of mangers under the shadow cast by Empire.
At the center of it all is the divine curveball that in all our born again pursuit of glory, where we have put fame, fortune, health and wealth on the gym-buff Jesus, the biblical narrative of the nativity shows us that God’s preferential option is to be with livestock and peasants.
His vehicles for redemption were the vulnerable. The muscle-toned Caucasian Christ, who we have come to love and worship as our personal lord and savior, came to the world as a fragile Middle Eastern baby.
Not to mention the salient lesson of the story of the nativity: For certain things, even God has to go to a woman.
Later on we’d learn that baby Jesus would grow up and hang out in the company of fishermen, tax collectors, zealots and prostitutes. They’ll wine and dine as a merry bunch and together they’d declare that a better world is possible. One far better than what the Roman Empire and the religious establishment gave them. Jesus would later on start saying crazy things like “to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.4”
In other words: Free all political prisoners! Universal healthcare! Salvation to the scumbags! Redemption for the rejects!
Salvation then would not only entail the spiritual deliverance of humanity but would also involve ending oppressive and exploitative structures of society. And sure enough, such subversive deeds would land our Jesus into capital punishment, capping the divine comedy where even death doesn’t have the final word. The man and the message lives on in the lives of the faithful 2,000 years on.
That’s immanence for you – a theological nosedive that puts to shame all our assumptions of divinity, unmasking our vanity and revealing a God far different from the one we’ve made after our own image. Rather, it is someone with a human face, hungry, sick, in pain and vulnerable standing right in front of us.5
For us this might very well mean that we would have to relinquish all illusions of prestige and end up in deep shit to be able to encounter the divine then come out of the ordeal transformed, filled with hope, serving others, and giving up all attempts to be powerful.
Holy $#%&^! Right?
- Rowan Williams, Christmas Reflection, December 2015
- Charles Wesley, Hark The Herald Angels Sing
- Immanence literally means that God is "to be within" or "near" in relation to his creation.
- Luke 4:18 NIV
- Matthew 25:35-40