Tag Archives: Christmas

Immanuel…Bat Man?

Last summer, late one evening, I was ironing a shirt.  And suddenly my vision kind of fluttered and went dark for a second.  So, I look up from my shirt and kind of blink my eyes.  And nothing happens.  So, I go back to ironing and a few seconds later, it happens again.  This time, I’m shaking my head and rubbing my eyes, thinking – oh, my, this is the stroke my doctor warned me about.  And I’m standing there like this and suddenly, I see it.  A bat.  A bat circling frantically around my ceiling.

I scream and run downstairs, scaring the cat half to death.  And the bat is flying and diving and I’m totally freaked out.  So, I’m thinking, how do I get this bat out of my house?  And it comes to me!  I turn off all the lights in the house, open up the back door and turn on the porch light, thinking the bat will follow the light.  It probably took a good five minutes for it to occur to me that a) bats aren’t moths and b) bats are blind.

So, I start knocking around in the dark trying to find my cell phone.  Then I remember again that the bat is blind, so I turn on a light, find my phone and call my husband.  Where’s the bat, he says.  It’s everywhere, I say.  What are you doing, he says.  I’m trying to avoid the bat, I say.  He says, How?  I say, By running around waving my arms.  He says, Sit.  Down.  You are interfering with the bat’s sonar.

So, I huddle on the sofa, watching this albatross-sized bat flying all over.  And I’m equally scared of two things.  One, getting rabies.  Two, guano.

And then, all of a sudden, the bat lands on the curtain rod over our living room window.  And now that I can actually see him, I see that he’s just this tiny little gray thing.  Tiny, no bigger than a sparrow.  And suddenly, I feel really bad for this poor little bat who has been stuck in my house for who knows how long and obviously wants nothing more than to get back outside.  Suddenly, I just wanted to help the bat, to do something to lead it out of my house and outside where it wanted to be.

And then I remembered a story I once heard describing the miracle of the incarnation.  That’s the miracle we’re really celebrating at Christmas –  the dreams of Joseph, the virgin birth, the angelic host singing praises before shepherds – these are all secondary to incarnation of God in Jesus Christ – God made flesh.

And lo, she wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger...or something to that effect.t

And lo, she wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger…or something…

It’s an unlikely combination, humanity and divinity, and theologians have been trying to explain it for at least 1700 years.  How did the incarnation happen?  How did it really work?  What did it accomplish?

Our lack of genuinely satisfying answers to these questions has been a stumbling block for many people, even for some of us who have been Christians most or all of our lives.  It’s just such a far-fetched idea – the divine taking on human flesh and then suffering, terribly, in that flesh.  No wonder we try to make rational sense of it.

But, my friends, this is something we can’t think our way through.  The miracle of the incarnation is something that the heart receives.  Because what really matters is not the how and the what of Jesus’ birth and life on earth, but why.  Why did God bother?  Why didn’t God just part the Red Sea again, send some fire down from heaven, make another donkey talk?  (That’s in Numbers 22, if you want to look that one up.)

I’d like to share with you Lauren F. Winner’s understanding of the incarnation.  Winner is the child of a lapsed Baptist and non-practicing Jew who, in her early twenties, converted, fully, to Orthodox Judaism.  But during that process, she became intrigued by the Christian understanding of Immanuel – God with us – and eventually, she abandoned Judaism, lured by the incarnation like a moth to flame (and unlike a bat to a porch light.)

In her memoir, Girl Meets God, she writes:

Here is the thing about God.  He is so big and so perfect that we can’t really understand Him.  We can’t possess Him, or apprehend Him.  Moses learned this when he climbed up Mount Sinai and saw that the radiance of God’s face would burn him up should he gaze upon it directly.  But God so wants to be in relationship with us that He makes himself small, smaller than He really is, smaller and more humble than his infinite, perfect self, so that we might be able to get to Him, a little bit.

Being born a human was not the first time God made Himself small so that we could have access to Him.  First He shrunk Himself when He revealed the Torah at Mount Sinai.  He shrunk Himself into tiny Hebrew words, man’s finite language, so that we might get to Him that way.  Then He shrunk Himself again, down to the size of a baby, down into manger finiteness.

Jane Vonnegut Yarmolinky wrote, “The whole concept of God taking on human shape, and all the liturgy and ritual around that, had simply never made any sense to me.  That was because, I realized one wonderful day, it was so simple.  For people with bodies, important things like love have to be embodied.  That’s all.  God had to be embodied, or else people with bodies would never in a trillion years understand about love.”

Never, in a trillion years.

So, the story that the bat reminded me of goes like this.  A man owns a barn and one day a bird flies into his barn and can’t figure out how to get out.  So, the guy opens up the barn doors and waits to see if the bird can navigate its way out.  Nope, next day, the bird’s still there.  So, he gets a broom and tries to shoo the bird in the right direction, but the bird just gets scared and hides.  So the guy is thinking and thinking about how to free this little bird and he thinks to himself, “If I were a bird, I could lead this bird out of this dark old barn and into the sunlight.”

And friends, that’s what Immanuel – God with us – means.  When Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life,” I suspect he was talking about getting small, meeting us at eye level, showing us the way himself, sharing in the life we live.  Joining us right where we are, just as God created us – beloved beings crafted in God’s image and “in the flesh.”

As for the bat, after I stopped running around like a maniac, it eventually found its way out of our house and into the night, where it belongs.  We, however, are meant to live in light.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, “You are the light of the world.   Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

This Christmas, may God bless you and keep you.  May the grace of Jesus Christ shine upon you.  And may the Holy Spirit give you peace.

© Marian the Seminarian, 2013


Keeping Christ in Christmas…in a Christ-like way

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.  

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people!  (Except anyone who is ashamed to call themselves a Christian.)  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord!   (And if anyone puts up a tree in December and calls it anything other than a Christmas tree, they are sellouts in the war on religion.)  And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger (and he is sick of you people who write ‘Xmas’ instead of ‘Christmas.’)” 

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!  (Which doesn’t include you if you even think of uttering the phrase ‘Happy Holidays!’)”  (Luke 2:8-14, RSAV)

By now, we’ve probably all seen those Facebook posts demanding that we “keep Christ in Christmas.”  Between those messages and the relentless TV ads trying to convince us that buying an Audi this December somehow constitutes simplified living, it’s no wonder to me that people commit suicide this time of year.

Here’s the version I’ve seen most often, with varying degrees of pique thrown in for flavor:  “I’m inviting all my Facebook family and friends to join me in returning to the traditional greeting of “MERRY CHRISTMAS” instead of the politically correct “Happy Holidays”!! If you agree with me, please re-post this message…..MERRY CHRISTMAS!  We need Christ back into (sic) our lives.”

Maybe I’m missing something – and I’d be the last person to say I have the market cornered on good solid Christian doctrine – but I really don’t believe that expressing inclusive holiday greetings minimizes the presence of Christ in my own life in any way.  And approaching Christmas with more belligerence than we already see in checkout lines and parking lots constitutes, at the very least, a very dubious witness to the birth of the Prince of Peace.

Nowhere in my Bible is there anything along the lines of, “Sayeth not thou Happy Holidays lest ye be cast with sinners into the outer darkness where there is wailing, gnashing of teeth, and justifiable use of pepper spray in pursuit of Christmas bargains.”  So, how is it that approaching one of the holiest days of the Christian calendar which honors perhaps the smallest, humblest single event in ANY deity’s life, so many of us mount our high horses to defend a holiday that doesn’t appear, at least to me, to be in any danger of going extinct?  Especially not in a country where this high holy day lies alongside the single biggest consumer bacchanalia of the year.

It’s challenging to preserve the sanctity of a holy day during a season that stands in aggressive opposition to Christ-like values, but for those of us who believe it’s important to do so, the challenge is for us, not for the world at large.  It is not the world’s responsibility to keep Christ in Christmas – it is our responsibility.  Let’s try to remember this when a non-Christian coworker graciously wishes us happy holidays or when we’re stuck in holiday traffic. 

And while we’re keeping Christ in Christmas, I think it’s worth keeping the other nativity characters in Christmas, too:

  • You think Mary at eight months pregnant had the energy or inclination that December to bake twelve dozen cookies, attend parties all over town, and shop like demons were driving her over a cliff?  The four weeks of Advent are Mary’s holiday and it’s meant to be a season of deliberate quiet and reflective anticipation of the incarnation of God at the feet of humanity, not the appearance of Santa at the foot of the chimney.
  • One of the most profound acts of moral courage anywhere in the Bible appears in the second verse of Christ’s life story.*  In that verse, Joseph finds out that Mary is pregnant – and not by him.  At that time and in that place, he could have demanded her death as an adulteress.  But not only does he not demand his legal rights, he makes plans to protect her from public humiliation.  Joseph could have chosen to do the right thing under the law – we are told that he was a just man.  But he does the kind thing because he is also a good man.  No wonder he was chosen to be God’s stepparent.
  • The magi and the shepherds probably have deep moral significance in the nativity story, but I confess I’ve never given it much thought.  It’s enough for me that they’re the main players in two of my favorite Christmas carols, “We Three Kings,” and “Rise Up, Shepherds.”**
  • The heavenly host, whom I misquoted at the beginning of this blog, exemplifies the very joy of heaven at the human incarnation of God and the coming reconciliation between mortal flesh and the divine.  Joyful reconciliation – THAT’S the meaning of Christmas.

And lest we forget, Herod was also a major player in the nativity story. 

Herod, my friends, is not the arch-villain of Christmas because he wasn’t a believer.  Herod is the villain because he did believe.  He believed, wholeheartedly, that Christ was a threat to his own power and position.  So, Herod annihilated an entire generation of children in his utter conviction that his position was the only thing in the world worth preserving.

Our Christianity is not the only thing in the world worth preserving.  But Christ is something about Christmas that’s worth preserving.  Let’s do our best to be like him.  And God bless us every one.

* Okay, technically, the begats are the beginning of Christ’s biography, but honestly.  Who reads the begats?  I’m a freakin’ seminarian and I’m not ashamed to say that I run shrieking from the room whenever I see a begat. 

** Just so you don’t think I’m a total Scrooge, here’s a quick shout out to three of my other favorites: “Mister Grinch,” “The Chipmunk Song,” and “Jingle Bells” by The Singing Dogs.  Because Christmas is a religious holiday at my house and religion is way too important to be taken entirely seriously.

© Marian the Seminarian, 2011

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