I love what the story of Christmas tells us about both the way God does things and the ends that God is working towards.
Sadly, it seems to me that in much of Christendom we focus on the ends (the Kingdom of God, the return of Jesus, …) that we forget how central to these ends are the ways God acts.
One of the saddest things is where we get side-tracked from looking at the way God acts into worrying about how God does them. For me one classic Christmas side-track is the Virgin Birth. A concern for getting doctrine, understanding and teaching "right" on that issue inevitably derails us from reflection on the way God works in the Christmas event through ordinary, faithful, obedient people like Elizabeth and Mary.
I do not want to miss the ends, that God came into the world as a human being in Jesus who went on to die for us be raised from the dead leading to the joys of a relationship, new life, salvation and eternal life.
However, the means is absolutely vital. Too often we act as if the ends can be reached through ways that are incompatible with the way God shows us through the Christmas event.
The ways God works excite me, energise me and fill me with enthusiasm for being a disciple. You can see some of the ways that I find important from Christmas in what I write about
- No religious hierarchy
The way that God went about sending his son as well as the way Jesus went about his ministry and the way the Holy Spirit worked in the early Church all indicate to me that far too much of Religious Hierarchy comes not from God but from humans.
I am delighted to be part of the British Methodist Church which is generally pretty non hierarchical and find it frustrating when there appears to be a human tendency to create hierarchy.
I struggle a great deal with the way a number of other Churches create hierarchies such as (at two extremes( the Catholic Church and US mega Churches (some of which appear to function on an entrepreneurial profit motivated hierarchy).
I find it particularly problematical when Churches give the clergy a hierarchical role over lay people which can result in tremendous abuse of power where clergy interfere in the details of people’s lives.
- All people
The account of the birth of Jesus in Luke’s gospel demonstrates in many ways a beautiful inclusion of people who were typically excluded (women, shepherds, foreigners). Sadly we so often see this inclusion lost and forgotten in Churches – even campaigned against by many (consider gender, sexuality and ethnicity).
Again the way that God acts through sending a helpless baby to an occupied country to parents with no power or authority is wonderful and stunningly counter cultural.
I despair when Churches reject the ways of non violence and powerlessnes that we see in the birth, life, death & resurrection of Jesus. The birth narratives stand in stark contrast to our own striving for power and willingness to accept violence.
So I love the end results of Christmas and celebrate them. However, I am equally in love with the way God acts through the birth of his son and am inspired to stand for God’s way of doing things that is non hierarchical for all people and uses non violence and powerlessness.
Of course the challenge for me as for everyone else is how to move from being in love with the way God does things to being in tune with them and onto living them out in my life – a worthy challenge for us all!