Christmas: A Cosmic Revolution
The nativity of Christ is the most profound example of humility known to humanity.
The nativity of Christ is the most profound example of humility known to humanity.
As the author of Philippians writes when exhorting his fellow Christians to humbly consider others better than themselves, the example the Philippians should follow is that of Jesus Christ.
The author quotes the lines of an ancient Christian hymn or creed -- ancient to us, but fresh and revolutionary to first-century Christians. Your attitude, he says, should be the same as that of Christ:
Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness and being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2: 5-11)
The author's compact summation of the life and significance of Christ bears all the marks of the early confessing Christian church. But for some Christians, belief tends to fix almost solely on the nativity and crucifixion. It does not proceed to the triumph of Christ over the evil powers arrayed against him.
Yet Christmas exhibits not only the humility of the babe in the manger, but also the victory of Christ over evil.
Followers of Christ sometimes fail to understand the exaltation and universal rule of Christ, as evidenced by his birth and then proclaimed by him and his apostles. Christians have a magnificent heritage which speaks not only of Christ born and crucified, but of Christ the resurrected victor over evil; Christ, the Logos, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end; Christ, the great "I AM"; Christ, the creator, sustainer of the entire cosmos. The author of the book of Colossians puts it this way:
For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together[.] ... God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Colossians 1: 15-20)
The author of Colossians is stating that the power which upholds and constantly informs the cosmos is the mind of Jesus Christ, whose mind is perfect and whose powerful, perfect good burns out any disorder (evil), reconciling and redeeming the cosmos. Not chance or gravity or dark matter or black holes or any other human construct -- no matter how valuable in articulating the ways in which the diverse structure of the universe operates -- creates, upholds, and continually redeems the cosmos.
The baby in the manger was the human revelation of God, perfect in every respect, and come into the world to save it from evil. The coming of Christ infused a perfect moral order into the entire cosmos. Evil is a distortion of that moral created order. Evil, with its attendant consequence of death, was defeated by the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ. Evil has been fatally wounded, is being destroyed, and will be destroyed completely with the triumphant return of Christ.
The birth of Christ is the story of the Christmas cosmic revolution.
God himself made himself manifest as a human being, a God-man who would write the entire history of the earth into the overarching moral structure of the cosmos.
Christians believe that the redemptive moral order displayed in the life-work of Jesus Christ is also written into the fabric of our world and political orders, as well as into the individual human conscience. Humans and the societal structures they create ignore, distort, and rebel against that moral order to their own peril and destruction.
While Christians are to continually repent of and turn from the moral deformities of their own lives, they are also to note the profound dislocation of societal orders and are called to participate in the redemptive work of Christ by courageous moral action. The call to redeem societal evil is part of what is meant by conforming one's self to the image of Jesus Christ. Seeking the good of society, earnestly working to conform the world to a higher moral order, is part of what Christ meant when he told his followers to pray, "Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven."
There is, on other words, a heavenly order, a Kingdom which transcends and informs all earthly structures. The Christian's life will be filled with attempts to combat the distortions evil brings into his life and the lives of others. The combative stand against evil is based on the belief that the world order should match the standards of the Kingdom of God, which Kingdom is ruled by one perfectly just and perfectly righteous -- one who has revealed himself and his law through the prophets of old and most completely in the person of Christ Jesus, Savior of the world and the animating Spirit behind the Peaceable Kingdom so beautifully described in the book of Isaiah, chapter 6.
The cultural and moral heritage of Christianity is so varied, so rich and deep that it is hard to choose a work of art which is a definitive example of the triumphant Christ, creator and sustainer of the universe and Victor over evil. But a personal favorite is the Resurrection scene depicted by Matthias Grunewald in his Isenheim triptych. It is found here.
Grunewald's depiction of the resurrected Christ captures the otherworldly but recognizable visage of the victorious Christ. The depiction of Christ bears a strong resemblance to the vision of Christ recorded by St. John the Divine in his book of Revelation. John, once the young and devoted companion of Jesus, wrote while exiled to the isle of Patmos. At the age of ninety years, he heard a voice, and turned and beheld Christ.
I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw...someone like a "Son of Man," dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held even stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. (Revelation 1:12-16)
We don't know if Grunewald saw the same vision of Christ as did St. John the Divine, but we do know that the Christ both saw, each in his own way, is shown as victorious over evil. St. John notes the double-edged sword, which in biblical parlance depicts the perfection and inevitability of divine judgment.
But John is also instructed to issue a word of warning to the seven churches located in present-day Turkey. Judgment is to be delayed in order that Christians repent of their weaknesses, ignorance, distortions, and sins so that they may be light in their societal order. That order was, of course, the Roman Empire, which eventually did succumb to the influence of Christianity.
Two thousand years have elapsed since St. John's vision. Two thousand years have gone by since the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ. But the claims and demands of the gospel of Christ in all its ramifications have not been nullified.
Far from it.
It is imperative that the Church of Jesus Christ rise up to confront, to challenge, and to reform a deteriorating moral order wherever it is found, be it in our own nation or around the globe. The Christian's call to continue to be a transforming influence in culture has not receded; on the contrary, it is up to the Christian church universal to repudiate the deafness and blindness which prevents her from hearing and seeing that the call is more urgent than ever.
It is up to Christians to prayerfully repent, and to recapture with all due humility -- but with all due conviction -- that good will prevail. This is the impetus of the cosmic revolution begun at Christmas so long ago, when Jesus Christ was born and the world was changed forever.
Fay Voshell holds an M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary, where she was awarded the Charles Hodge prize for excellence in systematic theology. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.