THE great appeal of Christmas is that it invites us to worship God in the form of a child. From the human point of view, Christmas confirms a human instinct to revere the natural, wonderful turbulence of childbirth.
As Sydney Carter once put it: “When the King of all creation Had a cradle on the earth, Holy was the human body, Holy was the human birth.” We recognise that children, including our own children, are not just incomplete adults. They are in the image of God just as they are, and reveal God to us.
The other side of this is what we discover of God’s nature. It is not difficult to think of God in terms of everlastingness, and that is supported by the language and imagery of God as the Ancient of Days. What is new with Christmas is the discovery that God is also ever-young.
To quote Carter again: “You are older than the world can be, You are younger than the life in me.” The two halves of the revelation hang together. God looks out on the world from a place of extreme dependency; like any new-born infant, he is helpless — the infant Christ needs all the help he can get.
And yet it also means that God brings into the world all the potential and energy of his own divine nature. That is why it is important to affirm the Blessed Virgin Mary as Theotokos, Mother of God. In the Christological controversies of the fifth century, there were those who resisted this title, arguing that Mary gave birth only to Christ’s human nature. The orthodox response was that Mary was indeed the Mother of God, because she gave God his birth in time, thus enabling the salvation of the world.
This theology, ancient though it is, still matters. Reverence for the humanity of children is critical, as society discovers to its shame that children are, in fact, often assaulted and neglected, even today. But just as important is the Christmas good news of Emmanuel: the infant Christ means that God is with us, now and in every present moment.
Henry Bramley, one of the 19th-century compilers of Christmas carols, expressed this in one of his own compositions when he wrote:
O wonder of wonders, which none can unfold:
The Ancient of Days is an hour or two old;
The Maker of all things is made of the earth,
Man is worshipped by angels, and God comes to birth.
It sounds a bit cheesy, perhaps, but it is accurate.
The Revd Angela Tilby is a Canon Emeritus of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford.