Truth is stranger than fiction. Especially when it comes to imagining interaction between the human and the divine. Here is a way to look at what Christmas means.
Imagine a god that would do anything to be in personal and community relationship with humanity.
Imagine this god created a covenant people out of a diverse population of slaves. This god said, “Believe in a story that makes you mine, in covenant with me, and it will be true. You will be defined by this decision. You will become a singular people, shaped by covenant with me.”
Imagine that over time the covenant people focused on the rules, so they could determine (by their actions) what their relationship with god was without consulting god. The law was something the people could understand and work with, to determine who was in and who was out of the covenant community, who was right with god and who was not.
Imagine this god hungering for personal relationship, for the beloved people of the world to feel divine love that would allow nothing to stand between a loving god and a broken world. Imagine this god taking drastic action to bridge an impossibly vast gulf.
Imagine god emptying out an aspect of the divine, creating a mortal that was still connected with the divine, so the mortal experiences would be translated and comprehensible by the limitless divine. How did this god choose to connect with the people of the world? Within the covenant community, of course.
But also in a poverty-stricken border town with too much contact with outsiders for its people to remain ritually pure. Born out of wedlock, far from home, in a garage for animals. A marginalized family, in a nation suffering from Roman occupation, in a thoroughly unimportant corner of the world.
Imagine this intensely loving and relational god, desperate to underscore the truth that love and identity grounded in relationship with the divine made everything else unimportant. The circumstances were nothing to the central truth that this child, and this child’s family were intensely valuable no matter how the world saw them. The divine connection in this child and in the faithfulness of parents in a bad situation trumped all else.
This child, a conduit filled with divine energy as well as mortal limitation, grew to insist that the divine, this contracted and contained god, loved everyone. Everyone in the covenant nation, and everyone beyond it. The failed, the faithful, the whole, the shattered, the self-possessed and the desperate.
No middle-man likes to be cut out. No proud culture likes to be corrected out of its dignity. No wise scholars enjoy having their ideas (based on ancient and venerated tradition) reinterpreted by someone assuming authority based on personality and intuition alone.
So consider the protection this loving god offered to an aspect that was emptied to become mortal. Born with barely enough to survive, from a region held in contempt, contradicting and undermining powers invested in their power to the point of using lethal force to defend their territory. There was only a singular protection: be right with god, in a powerfully relational loving relationship, and nothing else compares. Not life, not death, not fame or shame, not wealth or health. Only that relationship. And in betraying that relationship to protect anything else, everything is lost.
I know of no fiction as strange and upside-down as this concept. On this day, I invite you to think about these ideas. About a safety so deep that no one can threaten it but you, with a god so willing to cross distances to be with you that nothing you do or contemplate doing can provide an adequate barrier against that love.