Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas:The Image of God--by Linden Malki

Images are very powerful. God commanded the Israelites to never make images of Him; that anything they could make would be a snare and distraction from the true nature of God. Genesis also says that we, human beings, are made in the image of God. We debate what that means, but the real answer is what we are celebrating now.

The most powerful image that we see at Christmas is the classic Nativity scene. Historically, this was popularized by St Francis of Assisi in the 13th century, and one church historian has said that the "Christmas Crib conquered Europe for the Church." God sent us an image of Himself in Jesus, obviously not a complete image, but as much of it as we humans can bear. Jesus himself told his disciples that "if you have seen Me, you have seen the Father."  The question of images in the Church has been a hot topic over the centuries, but the reasoning has been that Jesus came as a real, physical person, and  was somehow an image of God, and so representation of Him is not unkosher.

I suspect that one reason that Christmas has become such a big cultural celebration is that on one hand it is a reminder that God did step in and change the history of the world, and on the other hand, babies are sweet and vulnerable and easy to deal with. We are genetically programmed to respond softly and lovingly to babies. But we also look at our babies and wonder who they are and what they might turn out to be. Simeon in the Temple, when Jesus was dedicated, praised God that his eyes had "seen your salvation,..a light for revelation for the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people, Israel." And then he told Mary that "this child will cause the rising and falling of many in Israel..and a sword will pierce your own soul too." All through history, babies have been seen as threats, not for what they are as babies, but what they could become. Herod saw this baby as a threat. Jesus recognized that His existence was seen as a threat to some powerful people.

Almost ten years ago, the Old Fire took my daughter's home, and among the ashes they found one piece of their nativity set: blackened by the fire, the smallest but most important piece, the baby Jesus. The rest of the set would have no meaning without this one piece. Mary is there because she was chosen to be His mother. Joseph is there as His guardian and human father. The shepherds are there because they came to see this baby. The Wise Men are there because they saw a sign in the heavens that led them to this place. The baby is there because God sent Him. As one Christmas carol puts it, "Man will live forever more, because of Christmas Day!"

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