Christmas and Easter sometimes remind me of the Bobbsey twins. They’re inextricably bound together, Can’t get along without each other. And yet they’re constantly competing with each other. For attention. For achievement. For popularity.
In commercial terms, Christmas is the hands-down winner. Without Christmas, many retail chains wouldn’t survive. According to the internet, Americans expect to spend just under $1000 per family on Christmas gifts this year. Canadians, I gather, will spend a little more — $1,276 per family — but that doesn’t prove we’re more generous; it might just reflect the lower value of the Canadian dollar.
It’s hard to spend that much money on chocolate Easter bunnies.
Many cities have Christmas parades, More accurately, Santa Claus Parades. Easter parades are less common. New York still holds an Easter Parade, down Fifth Avenue. I don’t hear much about others?
The competition gets more serious in religious terms. Christmas and Easter both draw larger than usual crowds to worship services -- although far fewer than they did 50 years ago.
Theologians tend to build their structure of faith on either Christmas or Easter, on the Incarnation or the Resurrection.
“My faith is firmly founded on the Resurrection,” a ministry friend told me a few months ago, while we were directing traffic for an immunization clinic.
Briefly put, the Incarnation argues that God — whoever or whatever God is — became a human being in Jesus, the baby born in Bethlehem. The Resurrection claims that that same baby, some 30 years later,
triumphed over death and will never die again.
We tend to treat both the Incarnation and the Resurrection as exclusive. Both focus on the uniqueness of the event. This only happened once, we declare. And to only one person. Ever. Even if it’s implied that everyone will be resurrected at the end of time.
Other humans have been brought back from death — an unnamed daughter, a woman named Tabitha, a widow’s son, Jesus’ own friend Lazarus… But they haven’t escaped death; someday, they will die again.
And no other humans are considered to be God in person. God personified. God embodied. Just the “only begotten son,” the heir, the second person of the Holy (or Wholly) Trinity.
The rule — we commonly assume — is that God is “out there” somewhere. Or perhaps “up there”. But certainly different from us. Not mortal flesh-and-blood.
Christmas and Easter therefore have to be exceptions to the rule.
I can’t help wondering why we — that is, Christians in general — choose to worship the exception as if it were the norm, the rule, the only way things can be.
For me, increasingly, the Incarnation is the foundation of my faith. Because I don’t think it is an exception at all. It is, rather, a revelation of how God works. All the time.
God works by being embodied. In us, as humans. But not just in us -- in all living beings. All of them. Plants and fungi, birds and fish, mammals and microbes. I don’t know where rocks fit, but I am quite sure that God is embodied in the planet.
God is not “out there” somewhere beyond time and space. God is “in here,” inside time and space.
One memorable line from Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat, Pray, Love sticks in my mind: “God lives in me. As me.” Not as someone else, an alien force occupying a human body. But “as me,” as this human body.
I don’t empathize with an other-worldly God who can only influence events here on this planet by occasionally meddling. By stirring up earthquakes and volcanoes, floods and droughts, to amend the course of evolution. By visiting occasional plagues and pestilences upon us as punishment.
As a contemporary hymn says, “God has no body now but ours.” No hands, no feet., but ours. And no shovels or vaccines, no bulldozers or scalpels, but ours.
It’s a huge responsibility. We betray the God in us and among us if we expect a God out there somewhere to step in and fix things.
God — and I won’t try to define that “God” — invests God’s whole self, totally, IN us, AS us.
That’s how Christmas has become the core of my faith. In the birth of a baby, long ago, in a cattleshed in Bethlehem, God said, “Look! This is how I do things. Can’t you see it?”
Jim Taylor is an Okanagan Centre author and freelance journalist. He can be reached at email@example.com