It was one of those moments in the Church Council. A service for children and their families was being discussed and it was said that it would provide a means to get across the real meaning of Christmas. And that to my mind raised the key question which I then proceeded to ask: “What is the real meaning of Christmas?” The first answer I received was this: It’s not about shopping or consumerism. It’s about the birth of a baby. Somebody then said: I thought it was about the birth of God. Another voice then whispered in my ear: “Incarnation”. Gosh I thought that’s a big word. All three answers have their merits and are an attempt to put into words what Christians have always believed about Jesus-that in him we see God come amongst us as one of us. So God became man in Palestine for our sakes and in this sense its true; the story of Jesus is indeed the story of the birth of God.
Luke has a story about this birth with which we are all familiar. Matthew mentions it and then tells other stories about Jesus early days and Mark and John don’t mention the subject at all. In their books Jesus enters the narrative at the moment when his ministry begins. So perhaps the story of the baby in the manger isn’t really doing the business and is misleading us as to the true significance of what God is doing in Jesus.
The Danish writer and philosopher Kierkegaard told a story to illustrate what God has done for us. It’s as good a story as any you’ll hear this season. Yes it does sound like a fairy tale but it’s actually deadly serious and very effective. Just suppose he said; once upon a time there was a girl who belonged to the poorest class and lived in the most deprived circumstances.
A powerful and noble-minded King fell in love with her. However he has a problem. How can he win her love? Would she be happy to live at his side? She would lack self-confidence. She would always remember that she was a humble girl and he a great King. How could the love between the King and the girl be a truly happy love without any delusion or deception creeping in? To overcome the girl with a display of glory and power might satisfy the girl for a moment but would not satisfy the King. To deceive the girl with a display of apparent humility would also fail to achieve a true union of love between them.
Kierkegaard applies this parable to God. How is God’s true love to win the hearts of human beings? How is God to reach out to us and win us? How is God to overcome the infinite difference between him and us? Union, Kierkegaard concludes must be attempted by descent. Love must alter itself.
God must become our equal and appear in the likeness of the humblest and in the form of a servant. And that likeness is no mere disguise as it would be if the King assumed a beggar’s cloak. God in Christ will be born in a stable, will suffer all things, endure all things and make experience of all things. He will be forsaken by his friends, condemned by the powers and put to death on a cross. This is how much God loves us. God has become, as we are that we might become as he is.
God out of love wants to be equal with the lowliest of the lowly. God the king plants himself in the frailty of a human being. He becomes a new person. How extraordinary, how painful and difficult, how much like death. Yet this is what God wants and does. To sit with us in love as an equal so that we the life of God shall know as God is manifest below.
Kierkegaard’s story is a parable-a very effective one. It’s won wide admiration and it shows that creative thinking about Jesus didn’t cease with the gospel writers. What Kierkegaard has done is that he has shown us in this way how Gods’ love works and that is the real message of Christmas.