Spirit of Christmas
The true meaning of Christmas gets lost amid the cacophony of the celebrations. But the hope of being transformed by the message of Jesus Christ makes every Christmas important.
CHRISTIANS AND non-Christians across the world celebrate Christmas. Wine flows, music booms, sales flourish in supermarkets, families and friends get together and exchange gifts, partying is the norm, Santa Claus prances about and reinforces a myth, people go carolling, and churches fill up with faces.
The cacophony and chaos of Christmas render invisible an ancient mystery. The Christ remains hidden, occluded, found only by those who seek him diligently.
What is the mystery of His birth? It is possible to unravel the mystique, even amidst the distraction, as Charles Wesley did in 1739.
Charles, brother of evangelist and revivalist John Wesley after whom the Wesleyan-Methodists are reckoned, wrote a Christmas hymn, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, sacred lyrics fitted to a tune borrowed from the `Festesang' by Felix Mendelssohn.
There is a section in this song that runs Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see/Hail, the Incarnate Deity/Pleased as man with man to dwell/Jesus, our Emmanuel. Many remember the mystery of the Birth of Christ as having to do with the Virgin Birth, His birth in a manger, its Announcement by Angels to Shepherds, the Journey of the Magi and their Gifts, King Herod's envy and anger, and his Murder of the Innocents.
But few seem to have understood the implications of the Incarnation. Charles Wesley got an insight, a glimpse. He recorded this in the words, veiled in flesh.
The key to understanding the birth and mission of Jesus Christ lies enshrined in these three words. Something or someone (the Godhead) appeared veiled in flesh to begin and complete a work that could open up eternal possibilities for mortals.
Mankind had been enmeshed in what is understood as the "flesh" since the fall of Adam in the Garden of Eden through disobedience to the express instruction of God not to eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Being "flesh" or being found in a "body of sin" prevented man's return to forever. Instead, death reigned and prevailed over all men, from Adam. There seemed to be no "way" out of the chains of death and mortality.
That which was born of the Spirit, of a woman, that first Christmas day, grew up, known as Jesus Christ. He proclaimed, "I am the Way". By this, most people imagine that He was a God-man like many others who have walked through the by-lanes and alleys of history.
But when He said, "I am the Way", He was claiming something unique and incontrovertible. He was "the Way" because He carved out a "New Way", a "Way" that He opened up for all, the first time ever in human history.
This `Way' is referred to in Hebrews 10:20 where it is stated that Jesus made a way "through the veil, even His own flesh". Thus He could be tempted like all men, yet He did not sin, or give in to temptation. In all of history, ever since Adam, such a human being had not arisen who had found a way "out of the flesh". But the child born at Christmas found this way out, only it was "through the veil, even His flesh", the way back to the Creator-Father, the way to Resurrection, newly paved.
What is this "flesh"? All human beings partake of the same "flesh". In this flesh, lies "nothing good". By "good", it is meant that in this "flesh", in the mortal being, lies nothing that is like God's goodness.
Instead, what lies in the "flesh" are impulses and tendencies that prompt and incite and enslave the mortal being to the "works of the flesh" - immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry (covetousness) and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. The fulfilment of the lusts or desires of the "flesh" is "sin" and keeps shut the doorway to God and leads to death.
The child Jesus born on Christmas Day a long time ago had just one purpose and mission. It was to make a "new and living Way" through his/our "flesh" back to God. So the Logos or Word of God became a man, just like us, with a "flesh" like ours. He then travelled through the expanse of the "flesh", destroying every lust and desire therein, rendering sin powerless.
The weapon he used against the lusts of the "flesh" was the Cross. It was the inner power of self-denial, the denial by an indestructible spirit of the self-will that always seeks to do things that displease God, to fulfil the lusts of the "flesh" and leads to manifest works of the flesh.
Christ hung on an inner Cross all the days of His life even before He came to be hung on the wooden Cross of Golgotha. He trod an inner Way of Crucifixion that led to Resurrection.
Thus, death lost its power over Him. The wonder and beauty of the mystery of Christmas is that, now, a Way has opened up for all mankind (flesh) by the Christ. One can now follow Jesus on this Way "through the veil", even the "flesh". One can deny the desires of the "flesh" and become like Jesus.
Then, in one's own life, the works of the "flesh" will cease and, instead, the fruits of the Spirit - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control -- will be manifest.
The way through the "flesh", denying its lust, would mean the transformation of any willing human being into the likeness of Jesus the Christ. The true message of Christmas is about this hope of being transformed into the purity and likeness of Jesus. This hope and possibility of inner transformation are worth celebrating more than anything else this Christmas season.
A. V. VARGHESE
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