Magazine article Tikkun

The Divinity of Christmas

Magazine article Tikkun

The Divinity of Christmas

Article excerpt

TIKKUN spoke with Matthew Fox about the meaning of Christmas. What follows is an edited transcription of his comments.

The Christmas stories are just that, stories. They are not historical stories-the material about the manger, the Magi, the animals surrounding the birth, the angels announcing good news to the shepherds-but they are rich and profoundly archetypal stories which draw upon the Biblical material that was well known to many. In one such story, Isaiah talks of the way that the people of Israel don't know God as well as the ass and the ox do-"The ox knows its owner and the ass its master's crib, Israel knows nothing, my people understands nothing." (Is. 1:3) This a message that is repeated throughout the Gospel. Sometimes four-legged animals are closer to God than even the chosen people, and divinity arrives among the ani'im, among the poor, the powerless, the disenfranchised. God at times may be closer to those who are at the bottom of the ladder than to those who act arrogantly at the top of skyscrapers. So the news of Jesus's birth goes out first to the shepherds, the people at the bottom of the totem pole who smell like sheep because they hang out with the sheep. It is the ani'im who are the first to really know God and know where God's glory really lies.

The Christmas story, then, is quite a political story. And all the more so when you put it in an imperial context-either that of Rome in the first century or the United States in the twenty-first century-and you see how very revolutionary it is to be calling the poor and the downtrodden "children of God" and bearers of God's "glory." The words from the angels to the shepherds, "Glory to God in the highest and peace to all people of good will," are ecumenical, truly universal, a promise that grace is available to all by way of the ani'im or shepherds. This universality is typical of wisdom literature in the Bible.

The infancy narratives are a miniature of the whole Gospel story. The good news of God with us, Emanu-el, is there, but there are also hints of future struggle and even death. (The story says that the ruler at the time, Herod, wanted to kill the new born Jesus, just as most prophets face the danger of violence from those who do not wish to hear their message or fear that that message may supplant them.)

One of the deepest meanings of Christmas is that we are all called upon to be bearers of a new kind of wisdom. The church has often obscured this message by making Jesus the only son of God, but in fact, everyone who bears wisdom is really a son or daughter of God (a theme that was already in the Jewish tradition before Jesus). Yet the story tells us where to find the Christ-and by "Christ" I mean the wisdom of God. Jesus represented the wisdom of God in his period, just as many others did. It is most useful to think of the season of Advent (the four weeks building to Christmas in the Christian liturgical cycle) as the birthing of Christ within us. Meister Eckhart put it wonderfully: "What good is it to me if Mary gave birth to the son of God some 1400 years ago and I don't give birth to the son of God in my person, in my time and in my culture?" Everyone, he taught, is here to be a mother of God. Mary is an example, but just an example. "We are all meant to be mothers oi God," he said. …

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