Apparently my e-PISTLE last week stirred up a lot of controversy about my use of the word “w00t” for the 3rd Sunday of Advent. Some seemed to have missed my point that the 3rd Sunday of Advent is all about Joy, no matter what word one uses to express that Joy. Of course the first Joy was expressed by Mary, who responded to the news that she would birth the Savior by declaring, “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!” Such Joy, by any name, is part of the Christmas message.
This week’s word is the really controversial word of Christmas: “born.” Or to state it more poetically, as does the Gospel of John in its beautiful Prologue, “The Word became flesh and dwelled among us.”
Yes, the fact that Jesus was born, and especially “born of a woman” – that was the “dirty word” and the controversy for early believers. It was hard for believers to think that God would become so intimately involved in human life. After all, many of the religions and philosophies of that day could not comprehend a God who would become flesh, human flesh, born in a barn. Somehow it seemed to detract from the holiness of God to think of God caring about, let along entering into, our human existence. In fact when the earliest Christian creeds professed that Jesus was “born of a virgin” the only controversial word in that phrase was the word “born.” It was not hard for people in Bible times to imagine the mystery of a virgin giving birth, but it was nearly impossible to imagine that the holiness of God could be involved in our human life in such a direct way.
That same attitude about the word “born” has carried over into many Christian thoughts over the years. Some Christians were so offended at the thought of Mary birthing Jesus that they invented the concept of “Immaculate Conception” – not about Jesus, but about Mary’s conception. Others invented what we call the Docetic heresy which declared that Jesus was not really human; he was more of a ghost who walked the earth without leaving footprints – all because it was offensive to think of God entering into human life. Some of that same attitude prevails today among Christians who try to separate “the sacred” from the “secular” in life. They think it is only appropriate to keep religion within the walls of the church, because the world is a “secular” place that is outside the realm of God’s care.
But Christmas declares the dirty word “born” in poetic and in dramatic fashion: Jesus was born into poverty, born to a couple without means to have a room at the inn (that was the real reason there was no room at the inn - there are always rooms for rich people – and it was actually a kindness of the innkeeper that allowed Mary to give birth within the shelter of a barn for animals), born into a small village outside of Jerusalem rather than within the walls of the capital, born into a place where the first ones to worship him were shepherds – those persons widely scorned by the religious leaders of the day for their failure to keep ritual purity while they cares for dirty, smelly animals. Yes, the Christmas story boldly proclaims that Jesus was born, that God entered into our humane existence, indeed the Word did become flesh. Human life is within the realm of God’s tender, loving care. Nothing in our lives is beyond the realm of God.
Jesus was born. The Word became flesh. Hallelujah!
from Bishop Michael J. Coyner