Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Reflection: Christmas Condescension

Philippians 2:5-8

A while ago, I had a conversation with a friend who could not understand how I could accept that the theory of evolution was probably right, and still maintain my faith.

My point had been that human beings can't limit God - who are we to say whether or not God might choose to work through evolution or any other means?

Yes, the first of the two creation stories in the Bible say the world was created in seven days - but that is not written as history, but as a wonderful hymn in praise of God's creativity. (The Bible contains many different kinds of literary forms - narrative, poetry, hymns, laments, history, etc. The form of the first chapter of Genesis is a poem or hymn of praise, so it makes perfect sense that it contains the same kind of figurative language that other poems or hymns will contain.)  It was written by human beings who were not there when the world was created (think of God challenging Job - "where were you when I created....?") And really, it's not about the details of how, but about praising the who - the God who made all things happen. That's a digression, so let's get on with the point.

My friend's concern was that we are made in the image of God - if we evolved from pond scum, how can pond scum be the image of God?

Human beings are made in the image of God in that we are spiritual beings, as God is.  We're also physical beings which God is not. We are bound by the limitations of our bodies - young and old, male and female, age and youth, life and death.  By nature, God does not have any of these limitations. God is wholly Spirit.

In the scale of things, there is a much greater difference between God and human beings, than there is between human beings and pond scum.

One of the most remarkable things about Christmas is that God has condescended to be what God is not.  God, in Jesus, chose to share our physical nature, our limitations, our pain and suffering. In Philippians we are told Jesus "emptied himself" - he gave up his own nature as God - to spend a human lifetime, albeit a brief one, experiencing the life of a part of creation. We often look at what the pain of Easter cost Jesus, and cost the whole of the Trinity.  We don't often stop to think of the cost of Christmas.

For our sake, Jesus left the perfection of Heaven, for a world corrupted by human evil. For our sake, he experienced the limits of a human body - which was totally alien to his God-nature. For our sake, he experienced the poverty of homelessness - being placed in a manger at birth because there was no appropriate place available. For our sake, he was a refugee, fleeing persecution from an evil dictator when he was still an infant. For our sake, he experienced living under foreign military rule, being persecuted and rejected, being tortured and killed.

To my friend who says pond scum could not be the image of God, I would suggest that pond scum has never perpetrated the evils that human beings have.

Human beings are the only thing in creation that intentionally harm each other, and intentionally harm the rest of God's creation. Other creatures may kill for food, but we kill our own species to gain power. And yet, Jesus condescended to be one of us. While we are spiritual beings made in the image of God, in our actions and our treatment of each other, we are the least God-like creatures imaginable. What a painful thing it must have been for Jesus to become one of us!

This year, when we celebrate, and share our gifts and food and all of the things that we enjoy, may we remember that the most costly gift of all was the gift of Jesus, who being one with God, emptied himself of his own nature, to be one with us.

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