For a lot of people, at the center of Christmas are family, friends, laughter, and cookies. Call me cold and heartless, but the center of Christmas, to me, is still the religious principle, the magnum mysterium of the divine becoming earthly, the ideal becoming real (maybe I've been reading too much Plato). This morning's gospel reading was the beginning of St. John, my favorite passage in the Bible--you know, the "in the beginning was the Word" one. One line particularly struck me because of our running theme in Chaucer class all semester, and in thinking about it I realized that in those lines is what I believe to be the true meaning of Christmas:
And the Word became flesh;
And made his dwelling among us.
My Chaucer professor got us all quite interested in the poetics of dwelling: what it means to dwell and how we express that meaning through language. Dwelling, we learned, originally implied a temporary state: to dwell meant to linger, but only for a while. Part of learning how to "dwell" on this earth is learning how to deal with our own temporariness. God, in theory, never needs to deal with this sense; he is the binary opposite of temporality. But in Christianity, the birth of Christ represents God allowing himself to become temporary for a time, to "dwell"--to linger--among us.
But dwelling is not just being. It's a way of being (see Heidegger); it's the way we interact with the space around us. Dwelling means dealing with that world, its people, its weather, its fate, its greenery. To make a dwelling means both to build a house, and to build this kind of relationship with the world. Christ, John is telling us, built his home here on earth, with all the temporality that that implies.
There's something marvellous there, especially in the idea that it's the "word" that's coming to build its dwelling with us. John was so deeply aware of language that he managed to write the entire opening to his gospel writing about it and its limits--and God--all at the same time. The word become flesh indeed.
Merry Christmas to all who celebrate, and much love to everyone else.