From Copenhagen to Bethlehem

(Thank you, Curt, for pointing this out to me.)

That this was the main editorial yesterday in The National Post (at least the online version) is both astounding and encouraging.  (I added bold to a few of my favourite parts.)  It’s been a while since I recall a major Canadian media outlet returning to the real story of the season…

Remember when Copenhagen was a brand of chewing tobacco? It means something different now, even as poor Kyoto, for more than a thousand years the imperial capital of Japan, has been reduced to an environmental agreement, and derivatively, the name of Stéphane Dion’s dog.

We are learning new words these days. High school students can tell you about “anthropogenic” climate change, and the dangers of “anthropocentric” thinking. Man is the problem you see — too much anthropos around. The world would be better off with fewer of us, a sentiment thinly-veiled at the recent Copenhagen summit.

Perhaps we need Christmas more than usual this year, though we are always in need of the good news about the baby born in Bethlehem. Christians celebrate at Christmas the coming of God as man, the eternal Son of the Father coming as man in Jesus Christ. What is celebrated is the birth of a baby, an occasion commemorated in every culture in every time and place. Every baby is good news. Lest we forget that elementary truth, Christmas reminds us. In churches the world over the Baby Jesus will be placed this night in the manger. Around nativity scenes little children will gather, fascinated by the wonder of it all.

Adults, burdened and weary by the toil and affliction of this world, can forget that fascination. But the Christian claim has not lost its power to captivate, to perplex, to inspire. God has become man. There is something very anthropocentric about the divine plan.

God is on the side of man. That was the good news first promised long ago to Abraham, when he was told that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars of the sky and the sand on the seashore. All the nations of the Earth would find blessing in his descendents, the Jewish people. The Gentiles would come to know God through their witness. God first fashioned for Himself a nation and a chosen people, and then He fashioned for Himself a son — a man like us in all things but sin.

The Christian claim is bold. Just as the Jewish people were chosen not only for themselves but as a blessing for all nations, so too does Jesus Christ come to offer the gift of salvation to all peoples. Indeed, the claim goes further still. The entirety of the natural world looks for that same gift of salvation in Jesus Christ.

The whole of creation — the entire physical order to which man belongs — is “groaning in travail,” as Saint Paul wrote to the Romans. We are wise to note this groaning. The world of nature groans still, red in tooth and claw. It is a brutal world where yes, even the polar bears devour their young. Natural disasters are, well, natural, as the hurricanes and earthquakes do their efficient and lethal work. To this, man makes his own contribution, his creativity bringing out the fruit of creation, his cupidity degrading that very same creation.

To all this the disciple at Christmas recalls Saint Paul again, this time writing to the Colossians, on the cosmic dimension of Christ: “He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on Earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities — all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

In Him all things hold together. The world around us often seems like it is falling apart — death and destruction and sin and wickedness take their toll. Perhaps the world itself will fall apart. People who today worry about climate change think that man has to save this world. There was a time not long ago when we feared that man would destroy the world under a mushroom cloud. Man saves. Man destroys. It remains anthropocentric. The great theologian Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was fond of saying that man is the cantor of creation. It is true that sometimes he sings off key, but it is also true that he sometimes sings beautifully. More to the point, there is no one else to sing. The Christmas story is that man has destroyed, and now man comes to save.

In Christ all things hold together. All things, Christians believe, not just their own spiritual things. In Jesus Christ, to look at man is to look at God. In Jesus Christ, the God who lovingly and freely created the mighty galaxies and the lilies of the field now comes as man to redeem and to save that very same creation. The Christian good news is that in coming as man, all that man touches is now touched by God.

To use the Greek again, at Christmas what is anthropocentric now becomes theophanous — to see man is to see God. The human and the divine are now united. All that man needs is now in contact with the divine. Man never loses his freedom to do evil, but he gains the capacity to build up what needs to be restored — that all things might hold together again. For the Christian concerned about the environment, Bethlehem remains more important than Copenhagen.

Indeed, for the Christian, Bethlehem remains always more important; more important than Rome and Athens and Kyoto and Ottawa and New York and London, and other capitals ancient and modern. Those latter places provide the stories we have the privilege to report. On this day when many of our readers turn their attention to those Bethlehem nativity scenes, we acknowledge that there are stories greater still. 

3 thoughts on “From Copenhagen to Bethlehem

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  2. Grady Tone says:

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  3. Sean Kana says:

    I admire the valuable information you offer in your articles.Great post, You make good points in a concise and pertinent fashion, I will read more of your stuff, many thanks to the author


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