Fr John saysthis reflection was first published in Perth's "The Record"about fifteen years ago and drew passionate responses both in favour ofwhat he wrote and others wanting to haul him over hot coals. Today hesays he's not quite as angry as he was then with the institution but thethrust of what he wrote still holds. Rounding out his reflection fromlast Saturday, he argues we need to find the Christ-child within ourselves.It's an argument inviting us to view Jesus as the model for our lives.
What do we see looking at a newborn baby...
Christmas is about babies, looking at and listening to babies, any baby,every baby.
What is it that mothers and fathers see when they look at a newborn baby?Do they gaze at it with wonder and awe, aware somehow of the revelationof a mystery that is far beyond their comprehension? Do they see the babyas revealing to them something of God, as well as some truth about themselves?To do that is truly to celebrate Christmas in a Christian way.
It is the revelation of that mystery, and of what is basic to humanity,that is at the heart of the Bethlehem story. In the midst of the sights,smells and sounds of the animals whose winter home this stable was, inthe midst of the pain, the blood, sweat and tears of childbirth, Maryand Joseph looked at their child and heard the revelation of God. So didthe shepherds, who then went back out to their ordinary lives, praisingthe God who revealed himself to them in the person of a baby, the Godwho revealed to them something of their own greatness, of their divinity.
Throwing out the baby with the bathwater…
Some time ago, as we spoke of some changes I thought necessary in theChurch, a friend said that I was trying to throw out the baby with thebathwater. "The baby and the bathwater" is anold analogy, of course, and used in all kinds of contexts, but in thiscontext it seemed particularly apt. It is my contention that, in the earlychurch, when the story of the human baby at Bethlehem was most important,they threw out the baby and kept the bathwater, and it is bathwater thathas consumed all our time and attention ever since. Some people came tothe baby and they saw and heard the revelation of God; others saw thebaby as a threat and determined to kill it. What Herod failed to do, thechurch managed easily enough, and modern society with its rampant adultismis doing it too in a much more brutal way as it threatens the life ofthe unborn, the poor, the weak and the powerless; as it demeans and brutaliseswomen; as it connives at war and firearms with which men play their games,games which mainly victimise women and children.
The baby at Bethlehem is all-important, not just for what it tells usabout Jesus, but for what it says about God and about us, each one ofus. It tells us that the uncreated God poured out all his creative energyinto human flesh, that each one of us shares in both the "isness"of God and in God's divinity and creativity. That is the essence of God'smessage spoken through the baby in Bethlehem; it is the essence of God'smessage that God speaks through each and every baby. It is the messagethat God wants to speak through each and every person, but can only doso if we preserve the childlikeness that is apparent in a baby. "Unlessyou become like a little child..."
Saving "the baby"…
That reality is something that Christians have never been really ableto cope with, so they threw out the human baby and all it meant. Theyput a halo around the child in Bethlehem; they said that this child, andthis child only, was God made flesh; they gave this child divine knowledgeand divine powers to put him apart from other human beings; and todaythey lock up this person in tabernacles and in heaven and in dogmas sothat he is apart from all human experience. Is it this understanding thathas given rise to doctrines such as the Trinity, the virgin birth, theimmaculate conception, and original sin; none of which has any biblicalfoundation, and all of which have caused a great deal of guilt and painamong ordinary people, and have put Mary, the mother of Jesus, in a positionwhere ordinary women cannot relate to her. Has it not put Jesus in a positionwhere he is no earthly use to anyone? All of these things are the bathwaterin which the baby of Bethlehem was washed, but it was the human baby thatwas thrown out. All of these are the evidence of the way the church haspractised adultism. In effect, have we not got rid of the human baby thatJesus was, and substituted something that we can never be.
The truth about Jesus, God's Word made flesh, is this: ALLTHAT JESUS WAS, WE CAN BE! If Jesus was the Word made flesh,God's creative energy for the life of the world, then we can be; if Jesuswas the Christ, then we can be; if Jesus was the lamb of God who takesaway the sin of the world, then we too are called to be that; we too arecalled to be saviours of the world. There is absolutely no truth aboutJesus that should not be truth about us too, if we really want it to beso.
But to be the saviours of the world and lifegivers to the world we must get rid of the bathwater and resurrect thebaby.
Couldn't we, this year at least, put away all the good and holy thoughtswe might have about the Christmas story, and spend our time looking atand listening to all that God wants to teach us in a baby, every baby!
IMAGESOURCE: The image of the Christmas child used in the head andtail banners wsa sourced from stock.xchng.The photograph was taken by Meral Akbulut, Istanbul, Turkey.
What are your thoughts on John's commentary?