Christmas and Death

My grandmother died today. It was not a surprise. She’s been in declining health for years, but a few days ago she had a bad stroke. Since then we have been waiting for the inevitable.

So I’ve been thinking a lot about death and Christmas in the last few days. The holiday version of Christmas isn’t generally death-centric. The Christian version of Christmas is in a forward-looking sort of way, of course. A Jesus who died and was raised could not do so without being born in the first place.

John 1:14 says “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we saw his glory, glory as the only begotten one from the father, full of Grace and truth.”. There was a time when Jesus wasn’t a man. He was still the Son of God, but not yet the son of Mary. The fact that he did this though, that he “became flesh” as John says it, says some important things.

The first idea is really quite simple. If you are of that particular brand of theist called “Christian,” you’ve already got this notion of incarnation and Jesus becoming flesh in your theological background. It’s been there from the very beginning. And if you are one of these folks who believe that the Son of God did become a man, then it is no stretch at all to look at the incarnation and know that God can do that again, millions of times over, when it is time. Christmas is great, but we have to remember that it points to Easter, to resurrection.

It also validates human, fleshly, physical life. God made people and said that this was good. And, even more importantly, the Son of God became flesh, became a physical person, lived a life that way, died, and his physical body was raised. If that’s not a validation of the essential rightness of our physicality, I just don’t know what could be. The life we live, from birth to death, the time with family, time with friends, the eating, the working, the relaxing, the sleeping, the love making, the laughing — all of it is good in a well-ordered life.

But around funerals I sometimes hear something different, with emphasis on the pain being over, being in heaven, etc. I get that. It’s a difficult time, and some people, like my grandmother, go through a long time of physical deterioration. It can, genuinely, be a real relief to die. But the Christian emphasis, the end goal, is not disembodiment. It is resurrection.

God made man physical. The body is good. The life God gives us ought to be used well and celebrated. My grandmother wasn’t perfect, but the incarnation says that the life she has was not a mistake. Nor is mine or yours, so live it. Do so rightly, but live it.

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