The true miracle of Christmas
My students always look at me slack-jawed when I make that assertion. We talk a bit, and then I give them their writing prompt, to discuss whether they’d travel back in time if they had to go in the bodies they currently possess.
As for me, my answer is no. To travel back in time in my middle-aged female body is not something I’d want to risk, especially if I couldn’t take modern medicine, like antibiotics or pain relievers, with me.
When ministers this time of year preach about the miracle of Christmas, I often think of that writing assignment.
Christmas sermons rarely talk about the real miracle of Christmas. To me, the real miracle of Christmas is that our great and powerful God would choose -- willingly! -- to take on all the challenges of living inside human flesh.
Our Old Testament scriptures show us God trying ever newer and more inventive ways of attempting to achieve greater intimacy with humans. But the New Testament shows God willing to take the greatest gamble of all: to become flesh, to experience what we experience, to eat physical meals and walk countless miles and watch the flesh of loved ones fail.
God takes on the greatest vulnerability of all, to become a human baby, completely reliant on all-too-fallible human parents who occupy the lower rungs of the social ladder.
This time of year, the story of the manger reminds us that God didn’t choose to be born to a wealthy Roman couple.
That kind of parents would have provided a measure of safety.
No, God chose to be born in a distant outpost of a great empire. God didn’t appear among us first as a fully grown human. No, God chose to suffer through adolescence, just like the rest of us have to do.
In choosing to live with us so many years, God gets to experience all the ways our bodies can betray us: the aching muscles, the stomach that must be filled, the bodily fluids, the wear and tear, the upkeep.
Jesus experiences the pain of others, pain caused by either the failure of their own bodies or the failure of the bodies of loved ones. And of course, Jesus experiences the most ghastly kind of death, crucifixion.
If we look at most world religions, we see supreme beings who are willing to talk to humans and perhaps willing to interact with them in an even more physical way. But in most world religions, we don’t see any supreme being willing to become human, to become vulnerable in the way that Jesus does.
God-made-human is one of the biggest miracles of Christmas, and it’s one of God’s largest gifts.
When I pray to God about a sick friend, I take comfort from knowing that God knows illness and death in a most visceral way.
When I mourn a death, I know that God understands, in ways that I can’t, that ultimate outcome of our physical bodies, which are subject to so many stresses that it’s amazing that we live as long as we do.
God comprehends humanity in a much more holistic way, through first-hand experience of intimate communion with us, not just distant observation. That’s the true miracle of Christmas.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott is a lifelong Lutheran, a college teacher and department head.