Nativity Jackson Beardy

Jackson Beardy, Nativity 1975

 

Jesus — “the splendour of the Father, and the figure of His substance.”

When we look into the humble, vulnerable face of the Christ Child, how can we possibly see the “splendour of (God) the Father, and the figure of His substance?” And yet, this is the grand paradox that has fired the imagination and devotion of thoughtful Christians for more than two millennia.

My friend Alana Levandoski wrote an elegant song simply titled “Glory” that captures the wonder of this revelation that is almost too bright for human eyes. For indeed, if the Sovereign of the cosmos—in order to communicate His truest nature and the content of His love—would condescend to the form of a child, born into lowly and obscure circumstance, then we have to completely reboot our all-too-human understanding of glory, majesty, power, and authority. It simply changes everything…

GLORY! Alana Levandoski (performed by Steve Bell)

We stood watch, just like any other night
Counting sheep, just trying to stay upright
Shuffling our feet, we heard the beat of an angel’s wing…
An angel’s wing
And above, we saw the strangest thing
The light all around began to sing:

Glory! Glory! Glory!

We left the fields, moved by the angel’s song
Even the sheep seemed to sing along
We ran like drunken poets
Looking for their muse, to the beat
Of angel’s wings
And below, we saw the strangest sign
All at once, our hearts knew what to cry:

Glory! Glory! Glory!

Sociologist of religion Rodney Stark claims that the most outlandish and revolutionary phrase written in first-century Rome was “For God so loved the world…”

The pagan gods, as they were understood, did not love the world—they used the world. They were not revered for their virtue or good character, but were worshipped (placated) by humans for reasons of personal gain, hope for revenge, conquest or safety. The legends of the gods’ too-human characteristics of selfishness, pride, lust, greed, rapaciousness and general skullduggery are legion. People of this time would not have had categories for the idea of a God whose basic orientation was love: other-centered, self-donating love.

And yet, this is the very clear message of Christmas.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.  Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:3-11 (NRSV)

Malcolm Guite recently wrote an illuminating poem that beautifully expresses the heart of this paradox. Indeed, so much can be said about the mystery of Christ’s nativity. But this poem uniquely paints a picture of the nature of God by showing us a startling contrast to the pagan gods as they would have been understood in first-century Rome.

This contrast has enormous implications for worship and for human behaviour and relations. For, according to the Scriptures, we have been made in the image of this God. If we want a picture of what a redeemed and restored humanity might look like, we must begin with the difference between gods made in our own image, and the Son of God who came down to us:

DESCENT lyrics by Malcolm Guite, music by Steve Bell

They sought to soar into the skies
Those classic gods of high renown
For lofty pride aspires to rise
But You came down

You dropped down from the mountain sheer
Forsook the eagle for the dove
The other gods demanded fear
But You gave love

Where chiseled marble seemed to freeze
Their abstract and perfected form
Compassion brought You to Your knees
Your blood was warm

They called for blood in sacrifice
Their victims on an altar bled
When no one else could pay the price
You died instead

They towered above our mortal plain
Dismissed this restless flesh with scorn
Aloof from birth and death and pain
But You were born

Born to these burdens born by all
Born with us all astride the grave
Weak to be with us when we fall
But strong to save

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Christmastide Devices

The above chapter is exerpted from the multi-media ebook PilgrimYear: Christmastide by Steve Bell

It can be accessed on-line or downloaded to mobile device HERE…

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Both songs above can be found on Steve Bell’s 2012 CD release KEENING FOR THE DAWN…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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