Thinking Anglicans

What would Jesus do… today of all days?

What would Jesus do… today of all days?

Lo within a manger lies
he who built the starry skies…

Doing what? Sleeping? Staring at the ceiling? Filling the first century equivalent of nappies? an occasional infantile gurgle or puke?

What did Jesus do? Not much, I’d say — certainly nothing out of the ordinary. The manger scene reveals the Son of God in a state of almost complete passivity.

The baby in the manger is almost as helpless as the tortured body on the cross.

And yet Christian theology says that in these two episodes of utter helplessness Jesus accomplished his life’s work, far beyond our capacity to describe let alone understand the implications. They are the heart of the good news, the foundation upon which everything else rests.

Jesus’ passivity is however, in itself, good news because it puts the boot firmly into into three pervasive pictures of God that are familiar but distinctly bad news. Disposing of these unwanted visitors to the manger can only clear the air.

First out the door is the “Action Man” Pocket God, always busy seeing people and doing things, fixing up the world, zapping the baddies and blessing the goodies real good. It’s a compelling, natural picture of God; indeed it’s the way most of us would tackle the job of being divine — it’s just not God’s. If God were like that, we’d have to say, with Woody Allen, he was something of an underachiever, as the good go unblessed and the innocent suffer. These facts, as much as the sleeping baby in the manger, indicate that this image is false.

Another god the sleeping baby disposes of is the absent Deist watchmaker, designing and setting everything off then letting it run. Whatever else he is, Jesus in the manger is the heart of the scene, present in the engaging way that babies become the centre of attention by not doing very much.

Finally out the door goes the old Gnostic God of Spirit, who’s around the world in some creepy mysterious way, but hates the place along with all unsanitised human beings. All that matters to him is Religion. Experience? Money? Work? Sexuality? Art? Science? He’s above all that. Jesus isn’t. He’s in the middle of it. Taking Jesus seriously involves laying aside the snooty assumption that the world is somehow beneath divine contempt. We may despise the world but Jesus’ two bouts of helplessness say the living God so loved it that he gave everything for it…

Finally among unwanted visitors to the stable, tell that pervasive old English hypocrite Pelagius to go away. “Don’t you realise the world is going to hell in a handcart?” he whines. “Do something! Pull your socks up! Sing Louder! Get Christians ideologically aligned! Get us back to the good old days, when God was safely back in his heaven and all was well with the world…!”

The baby in the manger sleeps on. And nothing will ever be the same again.

Alan Wilson

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Gerry Lynch
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A lovely piece of writing. A nice thought-provoking aprés to a lovely Midnight Mass here in Belfast. He is. We are. And we are at our best in Him.

Thank you.

JCF
Guest
JCF

Wonderful (though I still have a soft spot for Pelagius, to tell the truth).

Merry Christmas to everybody at Thinking Anglicans. Emmanuel!

Father Ron Smith
Guest

Thank you, Bishop Alan, for this little bit of Christmas wisdom. We need more homilies like this – in order to understand that God created humanity – yes, in the divine Image and Likeness, but then also of flesh and blood. The fact is; that God deigned, then, to inhabit the human ‘earthly frame’in Jesus. This should warn the dualists of the problem of trying to separate out our human frailty from the deep meaning of God-in-Christ at the Incarnation.

Tim Chesterton
Guest

Thanks! Linked!

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

What a wonderful thought!
I love Vanstone’s Statue of Waiting but I’d never thought of Jesus having been passive right in the beginning of his life too.
Thank you, Alan, as so often before it feels as if you’d switched on a light!

Richard Ashby
Guest
Richard Ashby

A lovely meditation. I have often wondered if, in the end, the Christian’s besetting sin is the need to be busy, and whether, since God is, we are just called to be.

The Candlemas hymn nicely juxtaposes some of the paradoxes :-

He sleeps in the manger, he reigns on the throne.

The Wonderful Counsellor, boundless in might,
The Father’s own image, the beam of his light;
Behold him now wearing the likeness of man,
Weak, helpless, and speechless, in measure a span.

O wonder of wonders, which none can unfold:
The Ancient of days is an hour or two old.

john
Guest
john

I can’t agree with all these accolades. We may agree that Jesus was born, was a helpless baby, etc. We also know (most of us) that the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke are fiction. Therefore it is unconvincing and irresponsible to build theology on them. Bishops ought to know better.

MarkBrunson
Guest

Well, john, just pretend it’s a bishop who opposes women’s ordination, and perhaps you’ll find it in your heart to forgive Alan for Christmas!

All theology is built on nothing but supposition and myth, and is – largely – a philosophical spinning of wheels and exhibitionism, from Paul on down.

Anne Peat
Guest

John, the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke may not be historical, but they are parables; and as we know from the stories Jesus told when he grew up, parables convey truth. The fact is Jesus WAS born, and he was a tiny baby. So it is perfectly proper to build theology on this fact. The ‘manger’ references are just cultural clues which immediately identify for us which baby we are talking about.
Thank you Bishop Alan for this.

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

John, you – a literalist? Your surprise me.

john
Guest
john

Erika, Sorry, it’s not me but you (and the bishop(s) you defend) who are literalists. I have no objection to these narratives. I sing the carols based on them. I love the associated razzmatazz. But they are fictions. Of course, I fully accept they express some larger truths. But because they are fictions, you can’t make ‘hard’ theological inferences from them, e.g. (purely for example) the baby Jesus ‘in the manger’ passively waited. To do so is not only intellectually and theologically untenable, it makes Christianity look stupid. That bothers me. The fact that Christianity so frequently – one might… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
Guest

John, I know – as well as you do – that theology is an inexact science; heartfelt rather more than head business at times. However, I think that Bishop Alan is here appealing to the heart – rather than the mind – consistent with much theological speculation on the mission of Jesus. However, we still have to remember the biblical admonition: “Where are your wise men now; where are your philosophers?” Human wisdom can never match the infinite Wisdom of God, but we can speculate. It often helps us discover a larger ‘truth’. I do agree that the biblical literalists… Read more »

MarkBrunson
Guest

But, apparently, you do not hold one liberal to higher standards, John, or you would not have made such a post. Right? What did it actually add, other than a swipe at Alan Wilson? Do you imagine his audience so idiotic that we don’t *know* the narratives are fictional? If you want to base theology only in Provable Fact, pat. pend., I’m afraid you’ll have *no* theology at all, until you can actually get God to sit down for a taped interview. Theology *is* a complete waste of time. That’s why it’s theology, and not accounting or political maneuvering or… Read more »