I think my favorite line in any Christmas carol is “Fall on your knees!” That’s from “O Holy Night,” a French carol written in 1847. The song can be profoundly prayerful for us whether we are from the most traditional or the most avant-garde strains of spirituality. The essence is profound awe at the love of God.
Although we think of evolutionary theology as modern—something that theologians like Teilhard de Chardin and Elizabeth Johnson write about, some of its main ideas go back almost to the time of St. Francis of Assisi. In a time when the mainstream of the Church was teaching that God became human to atone for human sin (a viewpoint that depicts God in human legalistic terms), some Franciscans took a different approach.
Without knowing anything about modern science, Friars Duns Scotus and Bonaventure contemplated the idea of creation as a bursting forth of God’s love. They firmly believed Genesis’ teaching that God saw all of creation as good and very good. Therefore, they taught that the Incarnation had been God’s plan from the moment of creation—that all of creation was a lead-up to the birth of Jesus and everything after is the history of a continuing incarnation.
In their thought, the Incarnation was not at all a result of sin that had to be redeemed, but of God’s eternal desire that we would share in divine life. While God is present in all of creation, Jesus is the one who can shed light on our life from within and at the same time reveal the most countercultural, iconoclastic image of God anyone could imagine.
This is the God who puts self in our hands and asks to be received and cared for so much that we enter into communion with God and one another—as simple servants, godly people who need help and who see their gifts as given for the life of the world.
Whether we look at Luke’s nativity or Paul’s letter to the Philippians, the truly Christian image of God is not the kind of omnipotent, omniscient, perfect divinity described Greek philosophy. Paul tells us that Christ did not grasp at appearing like what people think of as godly, but he emptied himself (Philippians 2:6-11). He’s telling us that all our ideas about the almighty God are mistaken. Jesus reveals that God comes to us not as all-powerful, but as servant, almost as beggar, who, as John said, “came to his own, but his own received him not.”
That’s a theological way of saying what Luke said when he talked about swaddling clothes. That great sign that the angels proclaimed, and the shepherds went to see was simply a baby in diapers! This is the God who puts self in our hands and asks to be received and cared for so much that we enter into communion with God and one another—as simple servants, godly people who need help and who see their gifts as given for the life of the world.
So, this Christmas, let us look at the heavens and their majesty and learn to see them as a sign of God’s deep and humble love. Let us fall on our knees in awe—and then get up and act more godly.