Originally written for the Book of Common Thought. Here adapted and ameliorated.
3. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.
Years ago, friends of mine read their poetry at a Pentecost service. I wanted congregants to hear unorthodox ideas about God while showing how translations of the Psalms, for example, made slight meaning changes. We are interpreters of God as God is of us.
I learned this interpretive binary from my favourite medieval theologian, John Scotus Eriugena. Eriugena was long forgotten but has now again surfaced from Carolingian obscurity. Yet, he has never found favour with high orthodoxy. I have a soft spot for the minimal heretics and misunderstood. Mozart, for example, is great, but I am convinced Haydn (given the constrictions he had) is the forgotten hokey genius.
Back to the poetry readings. One friend of mine ended his Afrikaans poem (my translation): “God born unto us, God, why us?” In a Simon and Garfunkel-tesque move, the other lines played between Christ’s birth and life’s messy injustice and violence.
My poet friend’s provoking question reminds us, there is no cosy politically correct (PC) corner to hide from Christ’s birth. Christ’s birth, as God embodied in the neighbour, is a concurrent blessing and curse. This embodiment is both the rescue and horror of being rescued from our wholefoods-bought-morality.
Remember, Jesus said one should love one’s enemy and neighbour. No wonder, as Kierkegaard suggested, our worst enemy is often the neighbour, who has come too close and demands the impossible. Yet, this monstrous commandment, love your neighbour, can be ignored by buying ethical water or shoes; i.e., shoes or water that promise to help the neighbor on our behalf.
Indeed, Jesus had no glossy entrance into the world. With no place to sleep, Mary gives birth in a stable. God born unto us among the animals. Scandalous unsanitized spirituality. God born in the muck as a human means our salvation begins in a body—whatever “body” may mean. And our bodies are increasingly protected from the neighbour through gentrification’s cosmetic catchwords.
My poet friend’s question stands as a reminder that our prayer of tears, fears, and actions are always in tension. “God born unto us, God why us?” reminds us the neighbour, indeed, the divine has come too close. We will always try to reinstate our distance from the divine violence of loving the embodied neighbour.
Today bodies are once again up for political grabs. We should not forget the holy family were minimal refugees in Joseph’s town of birth. They also fled to Egypt seeking refuge from the political powerful. Never forget the ultimate PC-character in this saga is none other than Herod. For Herod, appearances matter more than bodies. He’ll turn a town red, upending a whole generation, to make sure everything stays the same.