The cringe at the heart of Christmas

For John the Father is “the only true God.”
January 3, 2020
Anchor Bible Dictionary, “Incarnation”
February 3, 2020

The cringe at the heart of Christmas

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The idea of God as a little baby is one of the most disruptive theological suggestions ever made by Giles Fraser

Christmas can be a bad time for those of us with an allergy to all that Jesus-is-my-friend theology. As the angels sing, the eternal mystery pulsing through all things becomes a human being. Yes, this is orthodox Christianity. But what too many Christians take from this is theological permission to get terribly chummy with the divine. As God turns into Jesus, mystery can be replaced by sentiment, eternity forced to the scale of the domestic imagination. God becomes my best buddy. It’s the cringe at the heart of Christmas.

In contrast, throughout the Hebrew scriptures God is inscrutable. He is found in the burning bush or speaks out of the cloud at the top of the mountain. At best, God is only glimpsed from the corner of one’s eye, if at all. The second of the 10 commandments gives specific instruction that there cannot be an image of the invisible God. It is a way of suspecting any form of God that presents itself as too clear, definite or certain. And this is not just about visual representation. Any representation – philosophical, literary or poetic – that reckons it has God sussed deserves to be distrusted, smashed even. Iconoclasm is the way theology strikes back against the hubris of believers who think the question of God is quick and easy.

Evangelical Christianity, with all its emphasis on Jesus as friend, risks domesticating the divine, pulling God too much within the dimensions of the human perspective. With this sort of Jesus at hand, God becomes just too easy.

Yes, of course, one can read the incarnation very differently. I would argue that the idea of God as a baby is one of the most disruptive theological suggestions ever made. After all, isn’t God supposed to be omnipotent? Here, Jesus is a supreme form of denial – a denial of God as power. And this powerlessness can be as much intellectual as anything else.