The enormous emphasis which western Christian culture puts on the feast of Our Lord’s birth, 25 December, is something of a happy accident, much influenced by the turning of the season from darkness to ever-increasing light: the symbolic feast of Christ the Light of the World.
Logically the incarnation, becoming human, occurred at Jesus’s conception, which we celebrate on the feast of the Annunciation (25 March) rather than his birth in the stable of Bethlehem and I believe that in some oriental cultures people are given a one year credit when calculating their age at each birthday. Even within Christendom, there is a different tradition in the Orthodox churches which celebrate the birth of Christ as part of the Epiphany, or revelation to the world, which we westerners have tended to narrow to the coming of the three kings or wise men.
In the church’s ranking of festivals, Easter takes the number one slot, representing as it does redemption achieved, but there is little doubt that in our contemporary culture it is Christmas, the Lord’s birthday, representing redemption hoped for, even redemption expected, which wins the popular vote.
All of which brings me back to the thinking behind this dual presentation in Advent of Jesus’s birth and Jesus’s start of his ministry with John the Baptist at the Jordan. Both are seen as beginnings leading to the ordeal and the victory which we celebrate at Easter and, as if to emphasise the point, the Gospel appointed to be read at the daytime Mass of Christmas is the opening chapter of St John’s Gospel: In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. …. and the Word was made Flesh and dwelt amongst us.
Thus we celebrate at Christmas both aspects of the incarnation:
- That the second person of the blessed Trinity became human, became one of us and
- That he dwelt among us – not just as a child but into his maturity as a teacher, preacher and witness to authentic religion, right thinking and right relationship between the human race, of which he counted himself a full member, and what he referred to as the Father – his father and ours – whose will he saw as being utterly good, utterly reasonable. That is the fruit of the incarnation and that is what we celebrate at this special time.
- • Christmas raffle winners
- • Interview: Andrew Scott