How we have forgotten the way Christmas works
Christmas 2019. Christians around the world celebrate that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Feelings of wonder fill us and hope, perhaps, that this enfleshment will somehow materialize into something more substantial than a promise, a light in the darkness, a hope, ever so faint, that the coming into the flesh will substantiate the Word that this flesh is all about: God setting things right on earth; God ushering in the kingdom.
Nothing concrete happens of course, nothing besides the erecting of cathedrals and the enthronement of the divine Son in the seat of human power. A lot of chatter to justify the theosis of the Son’s flesh, perhaps, a lot of wordy doctrine to bolster the system of divine-human coalescence into a powerful theocracy. Beyond that not much happens by way of changing the world into the abode of God where justice rules and the rich and powerful are called to account for the oppression and exploitation of the poor.
A Phenomenology of the Flesh
Why? Because we have forgotten that inasmuch the Word became flesh, flesh always also has become word. And the meaning we assign to that word is utterly unlike the flesh that was the manifestation of it. We are dealing with a dialectic of which we cannot find the first move. Did the word first become flesh or did it become that only insofar it first, as flesh, had become word? We like to think of the Word as the primordial beginning. Indeed, the author of John 1:1–14 (the so-called Johannine author) certainly ascribed to the Word that archaic authority of Creator of all things. How did the author know that? Divine inspiration, some say. I say: bollocks!
It was an intuition, a creative insight, a poetic elaboration of the Johannine author’s phenomenological experience of Jesus of Nazareth. Whether the Word was precisely that, in the beginning with God, very God, without whom nothing is that is, we cannot know. From the gospel records we certainly get the impression that Jesus was highly ambiguous about his identity. The gospel writers, as much as they had a vested interest in producing a divine Christ, were not able-or dare not-hide that fact.