Of the whole gamut of myths, legends and fairy tales that have been told in human history, not even the most outrageous or outlandish can compare with the message that we can so easily take for granted. It is the message first delivered to poor shepherds as they tended their flocks in the early hours of the first Christmas day. The message was simply unbelievable, yet because it was delivered by an angel sent by God, they immediately believed without question the greatest news that the world has ever received. It is simply that the all-holy and utterly other, the God who created the world, in the beginning, was made flesh and was born in a humble stable at the back of an inn in a small hamlet of no importance. The full meaning and implications of this epoch-making event would take a long time to penetrate the hearts and minds of all who initially just wanted to bend their knees and adore. Even the greatest of the prophets had never foreseen that the Messiah whose coming they had indeed foretold.
The full meaning of the Christmas message
The full meaning and implications of this epoch-making event would take a long time to penetrate the hearts and minds of all who initially just wanted to bend their knees and adore. Even the greatest of the prophets had never foreseen that the Messiah whose coming they had indeed foretold, would, in fact, be none other than God himself, made flesh and blood in a poor and tiny little baby dressed in swaddling clothes. In one of his Holy Sonnets, John Donne the metaphysical poet perfectly sums up this profound truth: ‘Twas much, that man was made like God before, But, that God should be made like man, much more’ (Sonnet No 15). But that is not all. What they had never even conceived in their wildest imaginings was that the reason why God had chosen to become man in the person of Jesus Christ, was so that through him, he could enter into other men and women through love, to transform them into the image and likeness of himself. To use the word so dear to the Fathers of the Church; so that we could be divinised. If I could add another stanza to John Donne’s sonnet I would write: ‘Twas much, that God was made like man before, but that Man should be made like God much much more!’
It took a long time before the full meaning of the Christmas message came to be realised and understood, and it took Jesus himself to explain it. Even then it took him more than two years preparing the ground before he felt his disciples were ready to take in the deepest and most profound truths that have ever been taught. It was at the Last Supper that Jesus finally explained to his disciples the sublime consequence of what had happened on that first Christmas day. These mainly uneducated men were the first to hear the most mysterious and moving words that had ever been spoken. In the past, Jesus spoke in parables and in ambiguity, but now he told them clearly, speaking directly and to the point. In future there would no longer be any misunderstandings about who he was, and why he had come, and what he would do, and would continue to do for them. To begin with, they met him as the best friend they had ever had, but then they came to believe that he was much more than that. He was the one all the Jews had been waiting for to fulfill the promises that God had made through the prophets. Then, he led them on and taught them the full truth that they never imagined before. Some had come to believe it would be God himself who would come to inaugurate the new world order in which he would reign as King. Others believed that it would be a very special man, an anointed man, the Messiah who would come to rule them.
Prophecies Fulfilled in Jesus
Gradually they came to see and to believe that in Jesus both prophesies had been fulfilled. Yes, he was a man and the Messiah, but the Messiah was also the embodiment of the living God himself. What finally happened far exceeded all expectations. Now, as they listened Jesus summarised all that he had taught them, but in such a clear and distinct way that if there may have been misunderstandings in the past, there could be none in the future. Now they were taught to understand truths that all the wisdom of the world had never conceived before. The God who was embodied in his flesh and blood was his own otherworldly Father. And to have met him was to have met his Father and his infinite all-consuming loving, embodied in human flesh and blood.
But, let the deeply moving words of Jesus speak for themselves. When the Apostle Philip asked Jesus how they could see the Father, he replied. ‘To have seen me is to have seen the Father. Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?’ (John. 14:10). Then he led them on to a truth so utterly incredible that it must have shaken them to the very foundations of their being and taken them the rest of their lives to understand fully. His words were simple and unequivocal so there could be no misunderstanding:
‘Anyone who loves me will be loved by my Father too. Then we will come and make our home with him. Make your home in me as I make my home in you’ (John 14:21-24).
Deep, deep down beneath the surface, we all want to love and to be loved. We all want to have a home, a family or at least to be part of a loving family where we can feel safe and secure. We all want to have a place we can call home, where all personal selfishness, petty jealousies, small mindedness and pernicious prejudices can be spirited away so that nothing can come in the way of perfect love and the perfect family for which we all yearn. And, if all our dreams could come true, we would not only want to live in this perfect home forever but, ideally, we would want it to become ever more perfect and happier and to go on forever.
A Convert from Islam
Some of you might have looked at that moving clip on YouTube when a convert from Islam told how he read the Gospels to see what the prophet Jesus had to say about Allah, he discovered something that changed his life. He discovered that Allah was not a distant God, but a tender loving father, his father, even his dad. Abba was the word Jesus used and told others to use when speaking to his father. It is the word still used by young Arabs today to address their fathers. Born Christians too often take for granted the world-shaking truth of why Jesus came, and the news he came to share with us. He is our brother and we have the same father, the dad who has given us new life and a temporary home with him in this life until we are ready for the home he has prepared for us in the next. The home he came from and to which he will one day return, will be our home too. It is here that we will share to eternity in the utter peace, joy, and bliss of going out of ourselves through love into endless ecstasy. We will share this experience too, not just with Jesus, but with all those we have loved on earth, but purified of all the human weaknesses that once prevented us from loving them as we would have wished. This is what the first Christians called the Good News, the news that Jesus came to bring us. His message was that God is not just love but that he is loving us all the time and that he loves us not just as a father but as a dad.
A Tender Loving Father
In the Old Testament God is called a father only thirteen times and he tended to be a rather distant father, but Jesus taught that he is far more than that. He is a loving, tender father, a dad because he not only loves us but he wants to communicate his own inner life to us. In that life is the source and origin of every form of love that can be found on earth, and every form of love that a person needs to become fully complete and mature, ripe and ready, not just for marriage with another human being, but with God. Jesus did not just tell people about this love, he showed them this love embodied in him, and he made it tangible through all he said and did while he was on earth, through his tender loving human personality. When he was glorified he was still the same man as before, with all the human feelings and affections that he had on earth, but now they were brought to perfection. But that is only half the story, for now, that he has been spiritually raised above us, he can enter into us through love, the love that could only be received by those who were physically present to him.
He makes His Home Within us
View the earth from the moon, from mars and from the nearest star in the milky way and it pales into insignificance. Then imagine viewing it from the most distant star in the ever-expanding universe, and the earth would appear less than a single grain of sand, amidst galaxies of stars more numerous than every grain of sand on the face of the earth. Yet the ultimate power that created this universe can not only be contacted by the merest mortal but can be experienced more intimately than any other human experience, for God freely chooses to make his home within anyone who freely chooses to receive him. No human experience can compare with this, nor can any other human accomplishment bring so much pleasure, so much joy, and so much human completion.
Let us imagine that individuals could attain their wildest dreams, and become literary giants placed by humanity in the pantheon of all-time greats, or become musical or artistic genius’ of world stature – could anyone wish for more? The truth of the matter is, anyone, no matter how ordinary or insignificant can attain incalculably more than these their wildest dreams, if, like Jesus they are prepared to become as little children, open and docile to the Holy Spirit who first conceived Jesus in Mary’s womb.
This is the world-shaking news that we are reminded of each Christmas as we celebrate the first coming of Christ in history so that he can come to us every day of our lives in mystery, to make his home within us here on earth. But this is only the prelude to his final coming in Majesty to call us all into our ultimate home in heaven hereafter, where, together with all we love and hold dear, we will be totally engrossed in our Father’s love to all eternity.
David Torkington is the author of Wisdom from the Western Isles – The Making of a Mystic, Wisdom from The Christian Mystics – How to Pray the Christian Way and Wisdom from Franciscan Italy – The Primacy of Love. See www.davidtorkington.com