When people think about the Christmas story they usually bring to mind a tale of a baby born in a manger in a Bethlehem stable; however, there is another Christmas story that is far more mystical and cosmic than the story about a babe in a manger and shepherds in the field. This other Christmas story is one that is probably less known but it makes the message of Christmas far more “available” to people who aren’t Christians and who may not necessarily be believers of any sort.
The Gospel according to Saint John doesn’t talk about Bethlehem or angels and shepherds, instead John tells the Christmas story in this way:
And the Word became flesh
And dwelt among us.
Saint John’s Christmas account is a story about the universal energy of Love (“God”) taking on human flesh - humanity is wedded to divinity.
The first thing that strikes me about this story is that it proclaims the “nobility” of flesh, the sacredness of the body – a far different picture than the way flesh has been portrayed throughout much of Christian history and theology. Over the course of time the body has often been viewed as dirty and even disgusting - the discipline of physically punishing the flesh was considered to be a worthy spiritual practice and even to this day many believe that a celibate life is holier than marriage because celibates refrain from sexual activity.
And yet in John’s Gospel story we hear that “God” becomes flesh.
But John’s Christmas story does more than tell a tale of God taking on flesh in one person who lived long ago, namely Jesus. Rather Jesus is the “icon” of our humanity at its very best. The universal force of Love is “incarnate” in each and every human being – the story of Jesus’ birth is a story about our sacred humanity.
Human beings can be selfish and violent and yet we are also noble beings capable of enormous love, abundant grace and selfless compassion. There is a spark of God incarnate in each of us - the energy of God connects us all into a beautiful complex web of relationship.
An op-ed column in the New York Times made this wonderful “theological” statement:
The body has a spiritual essence.
Humans don’t just live and pass on genes.
They paint and write poetry, they make ethical judgments,
savor the beauty of a sunset and experience transcendence.
The body is material but it surpasses the material.
It is spiritualized matter.
The cosmic and mystical message of this Christmas Day is that we, human beings, find God in flesh, we meet God in flesh, we are God in flesh.
Christmas is a day that reminds us all that we are all “spiritualized matter,” a day for us all to celebrate and exalt our human flesh.
Divinity is wedded to humanity – flesh is noble, flesh is holy, flesh is sacred.