But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. (Galatians 4:4-5)
If God exists, and I write as one who believes God does, then God must be utterly different from us. Yes, I know that according to the Book of Genesis in the Bible we humans are ‘made in the image and likeness of God’, yet if God is the source of all things then God must exist beyond the created dimensions of space and time. And, frankly, we do not! The trouble is, if we pursue this line of thought about God’s difference from us, we quickly run into what is called ‘the problem of transcendence’. A God beyond time, beyond language, beyond symbol is a God to whom we cannot relate. It seems that a God worth having, one who is the ground of all existing things, is a God we can never know.
At Christmas Christians celebrate the way in which God has made Godself known and precisely in human language. God has spoken through a Son, through Jesus, who shares our humanity. In St Paul’s words this Son is, ‘born of a woman, born under the law’. Jesus is like us. Yet how can Jesus reveal God, the God whom we have just established must be utterly unlike humans?
Oddly, it is this very difference that helps. It is tempting to see God and humans as opposites within a shared dimension of being. We are finite, God is infinite. We are in time, God is timeless. We know in very limited ways, God knows all. But actually these contrasts are not those of opposites in this way. When we say God is infinite, all that is being affirmed is that God is not limited as we are. But this is not yet to say anything positive about what it means for God to be. Why does this matter?
Well take two things that exist in the same dimension, say that of colour. Midnight blue and golden yellow are different colours but exist in the same dimension of colour (frequency of light waves). This means something cannot be all midnight blue and all golden yellow at the same time. It also means midnight blue can reveal nothing of what golden yellow is like. But consider something totally other than colour: music for example (frequency of sound waves). Music has the ability to convey a sense of colour by creating something akin to a parallel emotional response in us. Music can be dark, and it can be sunny. Just because it is qualitatively different from colour, music can communicate a sense of colour.
I think something similar is at play in the Christmas story. God can become human, and so reveal God’s life in the life of a human being, just because God and humans are so different; we are not competitors with God for the same way of being. And just as there can be a meaningful relationship between music and colour, one can illuminate the other, so there can be between God and us; Jesus’ humanity can show us God. And it is this promise of relationship which makes Christmas such good news. Again, in St Paul’s words, the point of Christmas is, ‘so that we might receive adoption as children’, that is, so that we might relate to God just as Jesus does.
This Christmas rejoice that God is unlike us, that is God’s saving power, yet chooses to speak our language and so call us into a relationship that can only be described as love.