He’s lost a lot of blood already and can hardly see. The pain is like a drug, blurring his mind. He staggers on, eyes closed, remembering…
“It doesn’t have to be like this!” His friend was shouting at him, angry and frightened. “You can do what you need to do without this suffering!”
Another scene, a softer voice: “You’re very hungry, you know. Just turn this stone into food. It won’t hurt anyone.”
He opens his swollen eyes, glances into the roaring sea of faces. Many are laughing at him, jeering, a few weeping. He sees his mother, mouth open, staring in shock and agony. He stumbles, sways beneath the heavy beam, crashes to the pavement.
It doesn’t have to be like this. It doesn’t have to be like this.
No. It has to be like this.
Not just this – this day he had long feared – but all of it. The years of loneliness. The sorrow and temptation and weakness. The knowing that it would someday end here, rejected by his own. Hated. Abandoned. Unrecognized.
It had to be like this for him to say to earth what he had decided to say, to be for earth what he had decided to be. He would be inside what he was over, the aching, dangerous highwire of human experience. The languid, contented simplicity of a creature with a full belly. The searing anger and frustrations of human emotion, the frailty of a human brain, the bizarre tension of a soul within a body.
He knew what it meant to come, and still he came, and for one night, at least, the suffering was still far off. That night, there was only joy, for unto us a child was born.
His birth was a beginning, but also an end – the end of a chapter that began in microscopic secrecy, in the merest speck inside one young woman: in one living cell with 46 human chromosomes. The Son of Man was knit together as any human child is knit together. He “became flesh” or – as enlightened people in our day say – a mere “clump of cells” and was eventually born in a gush of blood and water as he would later be proved dead in a gush of blood and water.
There is no dignity here, no self-preservation, no standing apart from the humanity he created. His condescension was not condescending.
The wonder of Christmas is not that there is a being so majestic as God, nor that there are beings so tattered as us, but that a bridge was built between the two and in a shape no one expected – the shape of a child who is God With Us.
It was the “With” that hurt. He might easily have become God Among Us or God Above Us. It didn’t have to be like this… unless he had come searching, not for subjects, but for his beloved. Unless, by his suffering and condescension, he became “the firstborn among many brothers”, a living bridge “who has been tempted in every way – just as we are”, coming “to seek and to save that which was lost”.
That we are lost seems pretty clear these days, and it was to such people as us that Christmas came. “A people living in darkness have seen a great light”. Mary and Joseph, the angels and shepherds – they knew what a gift this child was. And we know, perhaps better than they did, what a gift this child was giving.
After he has suffered,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.
– Isaiah 53