A Christmas Reflection
I think that the most important question about Christmas is this: why did God do it? Why did the Son of God become a man? In order to begin an answer to that question let me tell you a story. It’s the story of the eagle who thought he was a chicken.
By a series of unfortunate events a baby eagle was left by its mother in the chicken yard. Separated from its mother, and knowing only the other chickens, the little eagle grew up thinking that it was a chicken too. It would peck the ground like a chicken, squawk like a chicken, and it would eat the chicken feed that the farmer left for the chickens. Most sadly of all, the little eagle’s world was confined to the chicken yard. Because the little eagle didn’t know that he could fly. Until one day a shadow formed over the chicken yard. It was so large, that from the perspective of the chickens, it almost blocked out the sun.
A wise old chicken screamed out, ‘eagle!’, and all the chickens began a mad rush for the safety of the chicken coop. Except for the eagle who thought he was a chicken. He gazed, transfixed, by the sight of the majestic bird above him. And then the eagle swooped. He plummeted down to the earth, pulling up metres before the ground. And the eagle hovered there, above the little eagle-chicken.
‘You’, he said. ‘What are you doing?’
The little eagle who thought he was a chicken stammered, ‘Wwwwhat do you mean?’
‘What do you mean,what do you mean?’ the eagle replied’. ‘What’s a bird like you doing in a place like this?’
‘I’m just here, where I belong, in the chicken yard,’ said the little eagle.’
‘Here?’ In the chicken yard?! ‘ The eagle was horrified. ‘You don’t belong here. You’re an eagle, not a chicken. See you have wings like I do. Extend them, come fly like me.’ And the little eagle tentatively extended his wings, until he realised that they were far longer and stronger than he had ever imagined. And, then he took off, and he flew!
The point of this story is not to say that God was only pretending to be a chook – only pretending to be one of us, when he really in fact, was not one of us at all, but God, who swooped down for a moment, and then left us again to our own devices.
The point of the story is this: God became one of us to show us that we have an alternative to being a chook. The Son of God became flesh to tell us who we really are. So the truth is, you are not a chook – you’re an eagle – a son or a daughter of God, with incredible value, worth and dignity.
God became man in Jesus to tell us that we have been acting like chooks when we are really eagles. What does it mean to act like a chook? It’s to believe that you and I, and our world cannot fly, that we are trapped in the prisons of violence, despair and hatred. It is to believe that there is no way out of the cycles of revenge and payback that mark our world. To be a chicken is to believe that human nature is so flawed that conflict between people is inevitable, unavoidable, even necessary.
To be a chook is also to believe that the chookyard is all there is. It’s to believe that who we are as human beings can be reduced to what we have, to what we consume. It is to forsake our true identity as the beloved of God, made for love and called to the high destiny of life with God, in exchange for the belief that I am defined by what I possess.
God became one of us to show us that there is another way: that it is possible to live in peace with each other. That violence can give way to reconciliation and friendship. God became one of us to say there is an alternative to excluding and rejecting others, to the situations of injustice that have so damaged the human story. God became one of us to say there is another way of being human, truly human: which is to say free, happy, and at peace with one another.
This is not to say that Jesus came just to tell us to be good. He actually came to tell us that we are to be gods – sharers in the divine love, the recipients of the most extraordinary destiny: that we are to be united with God in love forever. The way in which we are to live out the new life that he offers us – a life marked by peace, by non-violence, by joy, by love, is by believing that God has made us his sons and daughters.
Some might say that if that is so, then it doesn’t seem to have worked. Two thousand years of failure, violence, murder, and genocide still mark our lives and the lives of many others. And the logic of our culture defines us by what we consume, by what we own. If this is why Jesus came then it doesn’t seem to have worked. And so the conclusion that some, perhaps many draw is that the Christian ‘thing’ is a failure.
I’d respond to that objection with the words of G.K. Chesterton: Christianity has not been tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult and so it has not been tried.
Christmas is God’s answer to his own question: ‘What do I have to do to get your attention? So that you would know what it is I have in store for you, so you know the destiny you have, which is to live in love? So that you would know that my way is an alternative to the cul-de-sacs and dead-ends of violence, hatred and despair? What do I have to do to get your attention?’
God’s answer is this: ‘I’ll become one of you’.