Incarnate Wonder

Some churches I have known have had dolls for the baby Jesus that are vanishingly small – one, I swear in North Carolina that was just over two centimetres long. In terms of worship size meant nothing, of course. When I carried in procession tiny dolls on large cushions, the people felt just as drawn to adore the infant Christ as if it were life-size.

The baby Jesus and the wafer-bread for Eucharist are such tiny symbols for such a large action of God: they point to God’s generosity in bringing himself down to the created order. The great wonder of love that we call the Incarnation is represented in tiny symbols.

I love church at Christmas. The joy of children at a Christmas Eve telling of the Nativity, however chaotic, the quiet carols and communion at Midnight Mass, the bustling crowds of Christmas Day. But this year, like the several past, I have not been able to attend any service, let alone the full bill that I enjoyed when I was working as a priest.

This year, I didn’t even try to get to church. The decision to travel to Perth and to be part of our grandchildren’s Christmas came first; and their Christmas is celebrated far from church. I knew I couldn’t even contemplate managing church in addition to the travel and the family feasting.

My body inconveniences me. But I am learning that I should not feel remorse or disappointment at missing the joy of church worship. For what is my body if it is not also a symbol of the Incarnation of God? Like a two-centimetre doll or a wafer weighed in micrograms, my body is a tiny symbol of incarnation!

But Christmas still recalls the Incarnation to me. Christ is the Incarnate God; our humanity is an instant of the Incarnation. It serves me well to remember that my body may just be a tiny instant of incarnation, but I must learn to avoid letting my body be a distraction from the wonder of incarnation. It lets me down. It keeps me at home when the good part of me wants to be at least one Christmas service. But God created my body, and the writer of Genesis emphasises how good creation is, my body included. I must manage the pain and immobility, true, but I must continue to allow God to work through my body by being present in people’s lives. Sometimes that means a card or an email, sometimes it means a visit. Sometimes it means a short story without any apparent Christian message, sometimes it means a homiletic blog like this.

I thank God that the fingers of my body make the physical language of the piece. I know as a pianist how complex and how strategic the anatomy of the wrist, hand and fingers are – they are a wonder. I thank God that the neurons in my brain fire to initiate the thoughts of my writing. 86 billion of them! And there’s a mystery beyond the neurons, somewhere between incarnation and Spirit, and that is what the mind-brain actually is. My brain is a wonder.

I thank God I can see people and be seen, touch people and be touched. Yesterday at the beach-front, I arrived in my wheelchair. Grand-daughter Aurora from 20 metres away opened her arms, ran to me, jumped on my knee and we hugged. Our wonderful is that incarnation!

It may be that I miss the liturgical re-tellings of stars guiding, shepherds running and wise men discerning when it comes to celebrating the Incarnation, but I am certainly not missing out!


Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a, John 1

Christmas in a broken land

Those were the days when the heat’s fitful haze
turned the blue distant ranges to grey oceans,
and the sun’s morning light in spindling beacons bright
shone yolk yellow and all was stilled motion.

The bricks held their heat, shamed by defeat
they could no longer supply cool shelter;
Children ran slow and heard a bleak crow
caw listlessly over carrion with no one to tell it to

celebrate the arrival of God’s survival –
a new child in the bush down under:
not a plaster saint with blue robes faint,
but a battler, a beauty, God’s wonder.

Not a victory march through a triumphal arch,
but a nail-biter, to get there God’s struggling.
In today’s Australia, God appears a failure,
but God hangs on, power in long-suffering.

Maybe that’s why in the hot and the dry
we remember as kids God’s birthing;
nothing fancy or fussy, just a cowshed and mussy –
God’s total commitment to earthing.

–          Ted Witham, Advent 2013

Christmas post

Christmas Box

Oblong, brown and sealed with tape,
the box appeared with its far-off postmark:
Sydney to Perth; David Jones to the farm.
Uncle Charl’s way of saying ‘Happy Christmas’, and
how much more there was in Sydney.

We all gathered, pushed back my Mum
with the scissors, ‘Wait.’

It was hard to wait. The tape was
the flaps were
lifted, and our

Inside, were
trucks of wood, trains and cranes,
clown masks and printing sets,
spinning tops and chemistry sets,
Meccano pieces and Monopoly,
dominoes and frisbies,
helicopters with parachutes,
books and bike parts,
marbles and more.

Christmas challenge 2009

Buy NOTHING this Chrismas

 Give no gifts this Christmas.
 Explain to your family that you are using your economic power to help the poorest by giving no gifts. Often, the gifts we give are useless or unwanted.
 Instead, make gifts or cards which are much more personal.
 Join the Advent conspiracy
 Give Christmas gifts directly to the poor by buying presents through Oxfam Unwrapped, Christian Blind Mission Gifts of Life or the Tear Fund.

GIVE to the needy

IN AUSTRALIA, some examples:
Christmas Bowl
The Mutunga Partnership
Christian Blind Mission

PRAY differently

More silence
More meditation
More reflective reading of Scripture
Fewer words
Different symbols (candles, ikons, etc.)