Godtalk: Finding God in Others
Christmas marked the fulfilment of the Hebrew scripture with the arrival of the Messiah, the Christ child. The Feast of the Epiphany shows us Christ presented to the world. In the child Jesus, God came to share in our humanity so that we might share in his divinity. When God became human he met us in a real, authentic way. This is still where we find God today, in our common humanity.
Our humanity has become God’s home. It follows that our tendency to protect ourselves by making distinctions, thinking of ‘us and them’, is unfortunate. All of us are bearers of God's presence in our world. The Epiphany of the Holy Child attracts illiterate shepherds as well as intellectual Magi.
This paradox is uncomfortable. The challenge is easy to side-step. We can so easily hide ourselves behind sentimentality or sophistication. Not so with the Magi. They set aside usual assumptions about where wisdom is to be found. After meeting the Holy Child, their life is changed forever: the phrase ‘they went back by another route’ can be taken as a metaphor for conversion.
The unexpected is consistent with the unpredictable way of God's entering our history - outside of any reasonable or religious expectation, and certainly far outside the respectable social arrangements of Jesus’ time - or today for that matter.
And God’s appearance is divisive: reactions are either homage or hatred. For King Herod, God’s appearance disturbs because it seems a threat to self-interest: Herod can see it only as a possible challenge to his position. For those who think they have much to lose, it provokes violent reaction.
But for those who see they have nothing to lose, those who are not self-satisfied, who see beyond the surface of things, God’s appearance makes possible changes for the better that would be otherwise impossible - hopefully including ourselves. Because this Holy Child calls into question every claim to power or influence or entitlement. His appearance on earth dispels the illusion of ultimate control over our lives and history.
The Epiphany generates a new kind of relationship between all who share in our flesh - flesh hallowed by Christ. It affirms the catholic nature , the universal nature of the Good News. It opens up new horizons, new possibilities.
So to take Christmas and the Epiphany seriously is to love our humanity, because God has met us in the flesh. In so doing, God made himself as vulnerable as ourselves, able to feel pain and sorrow; but also able to love in authentic ways.
We are not using metaphor in saying that the Word became flesh. We don't need to ‘see through’ Jesus' humanity, in order to arrive at God: this IS God, en-fleshed. In the same way, we don't need to see through our own flesh to arrive at the real person, the real you and me. Each of us is a unity of both body and soul.
Epiphany makes clear that God's love embraces all humankind. And invites our love in return through love of our neighbour in the way God loves us. If we cannot do that, then we are certainly not loving God. Of course loving like this can be demanding. But Christ didn't come to make life easy. He came to give it meaning and purpose.
Peter Knott SJ