By Canon Gerry Conroy
Primitive human beings were very aware of living in a world that was hugely more powerful than they were. They lived experiencing things they did not understand but to which they attributed powers. They projected themselves onto these powers and then made them into gods they had to respect and appease with sacrifices. Even in Israel, who were under the guidance of the prophets and the Law, this fearful and awe inspiring transcendence of God remained deep in the consciousness of people.
This feast of Christmas is also filled with that sense of wonder and awe, but it has been transformed by this emptying of the traditional power and glory that happened when the Son of God freely took on our human flesh and was born in a stable with all the trappings of poverty rather than the trappings of power and wealth. God was saying something new to us, something different from the old message of power and glory as the way to freedom.
In our age, we are facing new questions about all manner of things. What we have done with our power, our technology, the freedoms we have gained through our knowledge have confronted us with the consequences of our actions in a way our forefathers never had to confront because they did not understand the effects of their newfound power. We were drunk on the freedom that technology has given to us. But now not just the pandemic, but the wider effects of our actions, are forcing us to stop and look at how we live, forcing us to ask the true nature and extent of our freedom and how to use it. We need to ask again how to use our freedom to best serve our future, not just as individuals but in working together, because it is only together that we will survive.
The incarnation of Christ is at the heart of our Christian faith. God emptied himself of his power and glory and assumed our human condition. He didn’t just play at being human, or pretend, he entered a human family, he suffered as we suffer, he was subject to death. He wasn’t born with a golden spoon in his mouth and he didn’t die in the safe and warm comfort of his own bed. He did all this to teach us something about how we should use our power. In everything that Jesus did he rejected that traditional approach to power and chose instead the humility, the littleness of service. We are so used to thinking that power and freedom go together; Perhaps we will reach our future not so much through power and freedom as through freedom and loving service.