"Jesus does not give recipes that show the way to God as other teachers of religion do. He is Himself the way." --Karl Barth (1886-1968)
I once heard someone say that Christianity is not a once-upon-a-time kind of religion. It involves real times and real places and real people. So too is the story of Jesus. He was born during the reign of Caesar Augustus. He was crucified by the order of Pontius Pilate. Jesus lived and taught in Galilee and in Jerusalem. Not one of the four Gospels begins with the words, "Once upon a time," or "A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away." Indeed, Luke begins his Gospel,
Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed (1:1-4).
And if there's one thing that each of our canonical Gospels states clearly is that Jesus does not simply point the way to God; Jesus is the way to God. Jesus more than reveals what God is like; Jesus is God revealed. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, says the Gospel of John (1:14). The Greek word for "dwelt" is the same word used in the Greek Old Testament to refer to the presence of God in the Tabernacle. The presence and glory of God once reserved only for the tent of God in the wilderness is now made known in Jesus Christ.
Many interpret the celebration of Christmas as nothing more than a season for emphasizing and celebrating abstract concepts like joy and love. In fact, a recent survey revealed that the majority of Americans (62%) believe that the significance of Christmas centers on things (e.g. family, giving) other than the birth of Jesus. But if we are to take the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke seriously, we must know that they will not allow us to get away with the safe domestication of the birth of Jesus and the sentimentalization of his coming. The joy and love of Christmas only find their legitimate expression in this Jesus, the one who is much more than just another great teacher or sage. Indeed, it is Jesus who gives concrete expression to our joy and our giving and our expressions of love.
Karl Barth states as well: God is not an abstract category by which even the Christian understanding of the word can be measured, but he who is called God is the one God, the single God, the sole God. And that one and single and sole God has come to us in the one and single and sole Jesus Christ. He has no rivals and no competitors for his lordship, except for those we allow him to have in our lives. Lordship is an all or nothing kind of proposition. God did not come to this world in Jesus Christ to be one lord among many or to be one recipe among others for how to achieve eternity. If that were the case, then the Gospel writers wasted their time in telling the story. But John in his Gospel wastes no time in encapsulating for us the meaning of this time of the year:
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known (John 1:14, 18).
As Barth would say, this is "the mystery and the miracle" of Christmas.
But if Jesus were Paula Dean, we would probably have better tasting bread for communion.
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