Christianity lives within the wonder first sketched out by the prophet Isaiah. On the one hand there is the thrice-Holy divine Mystery beyond and among all creatures, all finitude, all time and space. And on the other hand, this governing and creating divinity redeems us as one of our own kind, as our own flesh and blood.
Today, recalling the birth of Jesus, we celebrate both the coming of the Lord who became a servant, and the birth of the Suffering Servant who became Lord, through his whole life of faithful love of God and neighbour, 'even unto death, death on a cross'(Phil 2:5-11).
Christians celebrated the death of the Lord before they came to ponder his nativity, and in Matthew's account of his birth there is the pervading menace of Herod's evil as a backdrop to the joy of the Christmas story.
This child is born to deal with evil and sin and love gone wrong. Humanly speaking, he will fail and be buried under the weight of it. Another victim in the bloodthirsty history of humanity.
But the whole life ahead of this child will be one of recreating our humanity from within our own history. In the stories that will be told about him, we shall find him restoring and healing, guiding and welcoming, forgiving and recreating the lives of those whom he meets.
So much so, that they will share in his Holy Spirit and become his co-workers in the mission. That is why the angels do not just sing 'Glory to God in the highest' but also 'and on earth peace to men and women of good will'.
At Christmas we ponder 'How did all this begin?' and 'Who is it who is with us still "until the end of time"?' As we try to live out a new way of being human, must we not also come to a new understanding of the divine?
St John proclaims that 'the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us'. What is this 'Word'? We try to explain ourselves to others through our words and actions, but our moods change and the ongoing mystery of our uniqueness always escapes us. But if the Holy Mystery were to express itself then this act would be God's own characterization of God : 'The Word'.
And to say that this Word 'became flesh and dwelt amongst us' is to say that God has translated his own character into a language accessible to us - a lived human life - that of Jesus of Nazareth. Here the Eternal Mystery is showing itself at its most characteristic though in a human form.
To have seen me, is to have seen the Father. (Jn 14:9)
From the life of this man we are able to reflect on the character of the 'Father' who sent him and the character of the 'Spirit' we too have received.
Now this year we have been shaken out of complacency by the events of 11 September and the warfare in Afghanistan. Peace is not just the absence of violence: it can only be the fruit of justice.
Jesus shows us God's way of being human and invites us, from his Bethlehem poverty, to follow in his life. His truthfulness embraces the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the men and women of our own time, and as his disciples we must follow him now in justice and in truth, to work for peace and for life.
And we can do this in his Holy Spirit and in his name, because his name is 'Emmanuel, which means God is with us'.