My dictionary defines a paradox as something which appears to be absurd, but is actually true. Really gripping thrillers grab your attention by means of paradox. And the story of Christmas is full of it. The events in the ‘little town of Bethlehem’ seem quite disproportionate to such a world-shattering event as the birth of the Prince of Peace. The woman chosen to give birth to this phenomenon is neither regal, wise nor wealthy, but a naive, unmarried teenager. The first people to hear the news are not A-list celebrities or powerful media reporters, but a huddle of low-paid agricultural workers on the night shift! Would you have expected God to bungle this public-relations exercise to such an extent?
No! But then, each of these paradoxes reinforces the message that God was trying to get across. By sending Jesus to be born on earth, God is proclaiming the good news of God’s love to every single member of the human race, the wealthy and the underprivileged, the clever and the stupid alike. So it needs to be expressed in words of one syllable. Yet at the heart of this message is a startling idea which is totally unexpected. God chose to enter this world, not in power and great glory, but as a suffering servant – a human being whose flesh will feel the agony of human pain while bringing deep joy and contentment and life in all it’s fullness.
That is what makes Christmas such a paradox: it is cramming two completely opposite ideas into one human frame: worldly and divine, God and humanity, sharing one brain and one body. That is not an idea which materialistic people of today find easy to accept. Our world grows more and more secular. And although the secularists claim to bring greater tolerance for all types of people, that seems to exclude accepting anyone who adheres to the Christian faith.
Faith brings many blessings, and a deeper understanding of who we are and why we are here; but our understanding of the universe suffers a painful tumble when we pull the carpet of faith from underneath our own feet. Secularists say that faith is illogical; but faith is the foundation- stone of our civilization. Values drawn from our faith tradition led rulers, whether they realized it or not, to insist on public honesty, care for the needy, and liberty of conscience. If we lose touch with these roots, and forget the faith from which they are drawn, we do not increase human liberty – we erode the foundations on which liberty rests.
The effects of national withdrawal from faith have been a growth in shallow materialism, a cheapening of our respect for love and beauty, and a devotion to money and celebrity. We call bad behavior ‘evil’, but are unable to define what is wrong about it, still less why we should abstain. But it was into a world of shallow materialism and vicious power struggles that Jesus was born. It was to a world like ours that he brought the message of faith. The paradox that the all-powerful God is interested in the doings of ordinary people, and shares in their suffering, still needs to be proclaimed loudly today. The only way to change our selfish behavior is to bring people to believe in a God of love. And that is the message of Christmas. It survived through centuries of hatred, but is now in danger of being lost because of sheer indifference and neglect. Cling to the paradox of the Christmas message and proclaim it joyfully in word and deed. God is love; and God became human at Christmas to show the world that God loves every single one of us with a love deeper than we can ever imagine.
This Christmas we are Walking the Way – living the life of Jesus today. This is the new focus of the United Reformed Church. It is a message not just for Christmas – but for life.
Nicola, Cameron and Ross join me in sending you greetings this Christmas and wishing you hope, peace and love.
Russell J Furley-Smith