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Center for Action and Contemplation

Birth Is Just the Beginning

Sunday, December 20, 2020


Birth Is Just the Beginning
Sunday, December 20, 2020

We must move beyond a merely sentimental understanding of Christmas as “waiting for the baby Jesus” to an adult and communal appreciation of the message of the incarnation of God in Christ. We Franciscans have always believed that the incarnation was already the redemption, because in Jesus’ birth God was saying that it was good to be human, and God was on our side. 

Jesus identified his own mission with what he called the coming “reign of God.” We have often settled instead for the sweet coming of a baby who asked little of us in terms of surrender, encounter, mutuality, or any assent to the actual teachings of Jesus. Too much sentimentality, or juicing up of our emotions, can be a substitute for an actual relationship, as we also see in our human relationships. When we are so infatuated with the “sweetness” or “perfection” of another, we easily “fall” out of love at the first sign of their humanity. Let’s not let that happen with the infinitely compelling person of Jesus!

The celebration of Christmas is not merely a sentimental waiting for a baby to be born. It is much more an asking for history to be born! Creation groans in its birth pains, waiting for our participation with God in its renewal (see Romans 8:20–23). We do the Gospel no favor when we make Jesus, the Eternal Christ, into a perpetual baby, who asks little or no adult response from us. One even wonders what kind of mind would want to keep Jesus a baby. Maybe only one that is content with “baby Christianity.”

Any spirituality that makes too much of the baby Jesus is perhaps not yet ready for “prime-time” life. God clearly wants friends and partners to be images of divinity, if we are to believe the biblical texts. God, it seems, wants mature religion and a thoughtful, free response from us. God loves us in partnership, with mutual give and take, and we eventually become the God that we love. 

The Christ we are asking and waiting for includes our own full birth and the further birth of history and creation. It is to this adult and Cosmic Christ that we can say, “Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20) with a whole new understanding and a deliberate passion. This makes our entire lives, and the life of the church, one huge “advent.”

The Christ includes the whole sweep of creation and history joined with him—and each of us, too. This is the Universal (or Cosmic) Christ. [1] We ourselves are members of the Body of Christ and the Universal Christ, even though we are not the historical Jesus. So we very rightly believe in “Jesus Christ,” and both words are essential.

[1] For a deeper exploration of the concept of the Universal or Cosmic Christ, see Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent Books: 2019).

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Preparing for Christmas: Daily Meditations for Advent (Franciscan Media: 2008), 1–2, 8–10.

Image credit: The Virgin and Child with Archangels, Scenes from the Life of Christ, and Saints (detail), early 17th century (Early Gondarine), Tigray Kifle Håger, Ethiopia, The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image:
What I have seen is the totality recapitulated as one,
received not in essence but by participation.
Just as if you lit a flame from a flame,
it is the whole flame you receive.
—Symeon the New Theologian
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