All Saints Wimbledon 29/12/02
The Holy Family
"… never been born!"
Today is the Feast of the Holy Family. Every Christmas the Telephone Samaritans get an extra large number of calls from people who are tempted to despair or suicide.
One such depressed person recently said something very interesting. Her words have been used by the Telephone Samaritans on their posters this year to advertise the free service which they provide 24-hours a day, 365-days a year.
Their caller said "I wish the Baby Jesus had never been born!"
Her words suggest she was suffering from a widespread, but deeply mistaken, idea about the Incarnation of God the Son which we celebrate at Christmas – the idea that God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity only came into existence on the first Christmas Day. This faulty belief is held not only by those who only seldom or never come to Church – which one might expect; but also by those who worship fifty-two Sundays a year and (as shown in our recent Survey) by the clergy no less than laity.
Every Sunday they recite the Creed which says "We believe in [God the Son], 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 [the Son] all things were made…"
What on earth does one make of those parish priests who stand up in front of their congregations every Sunday and recite the Creed when in fact they believe nothing of the kind?
For there is a world of difference – literally – between believing in a merely human Jesus who can be bottled up and confined to a short period of history, and a Person who has existed from all eternity, who was present at Creation; who is here with us right now; who will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and whose kingdom will have no end". Scripture and faith know nothing of a Christ who is human and nothing more.
Of course the Baby in the Manger is fully human, so there’s nothing whatever wrong in celebrating his humanity – providing that we recognize that Baby as one and the same Person "who built the starry skies" as the hymn puts it. The belief that Jesus Christ is truly both Man and God is what Christmas and the Incarnation are all about and no less important than all the other truths stated in the Creed.
However there are two quite different but equally valid ways of looking at that Truth; and which of the two views appeals more strongly to someone will depend, in part at least, upon what sort of person they are and what their experiences in life have been.
People whose experience of Family, Child- and Mother-hood spell out "happiness" naturally find themselves responding positively to the Holy Family at Bethlehem; but anyone whose experience of marriage, childbirth or family has been a horrible one (no matter whose fault it was) will feel quite "iffy", to say the least, in their response to the "popular" view of Christmas which makes so much of those things.
That’s why at the two Christmas Masses we have quite different readings. Whilst at Midnight Mass we hear St Paul writing to Titus, and St Luke’s Nativity, which both centre on mankind, and the humanity of Jesus, the readings we have on Christmas morning (from the Letter to the Hebrews and St John’s Gospel) major on his divinity – the fact that he who "was made flesh and dwelt among us" is one and the same Person who "was in the beginning, the Word of God, eternally begotten of the Father". It was a stroke of inspiration that guided the Church to choose two such different pairs of readings, each of which concentrates our attention on one of the two Natures which our Lord possesses, the human and the divine.
Those who for any reason find the truth at the heart of Luke and Paul’s words – the Humanity of Jesus – doesn’t "resonate" properly in their minds and hearts can equally well focus their attention on his Divinity, as described by Hebrews and John instead.
Of course, in the end it’s not a case of either/or Divinity/Humanity but both/and. For what God the Holy Spirit has revealed to us about the Humanity and the Divinity of God the Son are both supremely important. Given time, help and perseverance we can all learn to understand more fully, and therefore worship better, both of his Natures; but let’s always be aware that some people are at a stage of their spiritual and emotional life when they find that his Divine Nature will resonate more (or less) strongly than his Human Nature, or vice versa.
The worldly or "Secular" Mind takes in only the human view of Jesus Christ – and a deeply faulty and inadequate version of it into the bargain. To that mind-set the significance of Christmas begins and ends with the birth of a baby at Bethlehem, with an odd camel, wise man, angel and shepherd thrown in for good measure.
It would be hard to imagine anything less likely to appeal to someone who has been emotionally damaged by their own family. So we shouldn’t be surprised if people who are depressed, lonely, forsaken, bereaved, disappointed or weighed down by care say things like "I wish the Baby Jesus had never been born!" as they see other people enjoying what they have never known, and maybe in this life never will. Those words "I wish the Baby Jesus had never been born!" are a cry from the heart of someone who has been seriously damaged in a way that the rest of us cannot even imagine.
Encourage them instead to look at the words from Hebrews and John which describe, as perfectly as any words can, what well-informed Christians believe. For these words are far more likely to resonate favourably with those who find "Secular Christmas" is nothing but a painful ordeal to be endured rather than enjoyed.
Speaking of Jesus, St John says:
Through him all things came to be…all that came to be had life in him and that life was the light of men, a light that shines in the dark, a light that darkness could not overcome.
And Hebrews echoes St John with the words:
He is the radiant light of God’s glory and the perfect copy of his nature, sustaining the universe by hi powerful command… when God brings the First-born into the world he says: Let all the angels of God worship him.
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