Chrysostom says that the event itself and the outcome of the birth of Jesus will cause people to recognize that he is in fact the Emmanuel, God-with-us. Admittedly, he observes, God has always been with us but never before has He been so openly among us. It’s a wonderful observation and we should keep it in mind as we welcome the New Year. The realization that God lives among us, as one of us, like us, makes Christmas more than the innocent image of a baby laying in a manger surrounded by animals, angels, peasants and kings. The story and the image make us realize that God decided to come and live with us.
The Gospel teaching of Jesus places strong emphasis on what He calls the Kingdom of God. John the Baptist said it was coming, Jesus said it was already here. Jesus had much to say about this Kingdom and its presence. It’s the whole context of his teaching and of his healing miracles. According to the Gospels, the Kingdom is described as a new reign of godliness brought about by divine intervention and supremely embodied in the life of Jesus. It’s not confined to any particular place or to any human realm, or to any historical period of time or earthly political or religious system – although it includes all of these. It doesn’t belong to human beings to control or manipulate, although we share intimately in its existence and are invited to promote its growth and development.
The birth of Jesus and the Kingdom he proclaimed is about a transformation: a new world characterized by the presence among us of a God capable of creating relationships based on justice, love, compassion and peace, something political realms and religion could not achieve. Nativity and incarnation means that God has irrevocably entered our lives. He has turned our power structures upside down. He has declared the powerless and the marginalized blessed. He has dissolved himself into human history.
The New Year challenges us to accept full responsibility for a transformation, initiated in Jesus, and commit ourselves to the unfolding of a Kingdom marked by right relationships of justice, compassion, love and peace. It’s in this Kingdom that we find the real meaning of the name Emmanuel. May the New Year be transforming and may we all discover Christ’s abiding presence among us.
Blessings in 2014,