Holding God – the significance of Christmas
By Terry Wall
The prophet Jeremiah visiting the potter's house saw the craftsman at work. "The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter's hand, and he reworked it into another one, as seemed good to him." (Jer. 18:4) The Word of God came to Jeremiah. He saw that Israel was like clay in the hands of the potter. We are held in the hand of God.
Here is an image of our relationship to God. It speaks of our being accountable to God. God's intentions are for our well-being, but Jeremiah also discerns that God may change the divine will. There is a call to be obedient to the covenant relationship.
In Matthew's gospel wise men from the east search for the child who was to be king of the Jews. "On entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage." (Matthew 2:11) Those searching are led by the light. Those on a journey have arrived.
Through profound reflection upon the significance of this birth, the church came to believe that in this child the divine had been encountered and revealed. Quietly God had broken into this world and come to know our life from within.
Jeremiah saw God holding the life of the nation. Matthew's gospel sees humanity holding the life of God. Mary holding the infant Christ is a radical depiction of what incarnation means. At the heart of Christian faith God pours out the divine life for the life of the world.
To place the divine life in our hands, such a God takes risks. Mary models the human response of tender love and nurturing. With Joseph she so shaped the life of Jesus that he would manifest the fullness of the life of God.
This image of God subverts many images that have enjoyed popular appeal. Here we discover the hiddenness of God. Rather than seated on an imperial throne, this God is to be found in the anonymity of the manger, in an unimportant province of the empire. The divine presence is neither obvious nor evident.
This God is vulnerable, without the power to impose a harsh will or a tyrannical order. The vulnerable God is open to share the suffering of the world. In this way we are known and loved from the inside.
The God who places the divine life in human hands takes the audacious step of relinquishing control. We have need of God and God has need of us. Here is genuine participation, relationship and partnership. Increased human responsibility for the life of the world is offered, indeed required.
This does not mean that we create God, nor that God will serve our purposes. Rather the divine life is formed in us, as it was formed in Mary. We are called to be open and to welcome the Word being made flesh within us.
To be a people of the incarnation then is to be hidden with God serving the life of the world, to embrace the vulnerability of love and to refuse to give way to our impulse to control.
We need Jeremiah's image and Matthew's image of God. Both speak to us of the mystery of grace. The festival of Christmas celebrates the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ – God so sharing our life, that we are given a share in the divine life.