Advent Firesiders

Son (2008)

From one standpoint, we are woefully short of material about the life of Jesus; what we have are four theological reflections based on an oral tradition but from another point of view we know so much that it is difficult to find anything new to say; or, to question the obsession with novelty, is there anything new that we need to try to say?

I think there is; and I also think that Christmas is the right time for some new thinking. the root of our problem as Christians, it seems to me, is that we use the word "Incarnational" in a theological rather than in a literal sense. Following on from the first four Ecumenical Councils, we are very good with the "Truly human, truly divine" formulation but that's what it is; a formulation. Because of this, we're actually little gnostics; we intellectually respect the incarnation but we don't experience it psychologically or assent to it emotionally except in the context of the baby. We're all right with the real child in a fictional manger with quadrupled central heating but after that we veer back to the gnostic: the first glimpse we have of Jesus after the stable he is, significantly, being pronounced a wunderkind and the next time we see him he is fulfilling that role, disputing with the elders in the temple. Then there is a gap before the real theological Jesus comes into full focus with his mission and his miracles and his strange death and even stranger resurrection.

What we need to do to escape from our heresy is to use more imagination to think of the man: was he a stroppy teenager? Did he fall in love but get unlucky or was he a sworn celibate? Indeed, was he really a Nazarite who became a Nazarene as the result of a sloppy scribe? How politically adept was he as his confrontation with the religious authorities approached? And, perhaps most significantly, how badly did his passion hurt? You might think that Good Friday is the right time to warn that we are apt to be blasé about the Crucifixion as some sort of metaphysical debt-settling but it is only if we get this right that we can go back to the baby and think of Jesus as a real baby with a difficult life before him after, what must be admitted, was a rather bad start.

There are some serious disadvantages in the Trinitarian model of Godhead - as Muslims rightly point out - but its advantage, if we can get our heads round the Greek theology, is that we can bring out characteristics in the 'persons' which help us to get closer to the core; there's quite enough spiritual material in The Creator and The Sanctifier, and there's another 'half' in Jesus which makes spiritual 2.5 to Physical 0.5 and that's a ratio that threatens to dismiss the 0.5 as so insignificant that we might as well forget it and go for three spirits in one. From there it's an easy step to think of God as a force rather than having any personal attributes and that, in turn, leads to religion as doctrine, freeing us of the privileged obligation to work at our personal relationship with a personal God.

So it's vitally important that we start on the right footing with this baby, and then we will have a better chance of getting the rest right.