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Posted: December 10, 2010 12:30 a.m.

About Faith: The Christmas paradox

Christmas is a time when we celebrate the paradoxical story of God becoming a human being. It is a story which upends most of the world’s history of approaching God. While other religions usually attempt to span that unfathomable gap between God and humanity by human effort, Christianity claims that God solved the problem by becoming one of us.

The more common story among world religions is about people rising above their current state to approach divinity. Hinduism imagines a cycle of life, wherein reincarnation provides a vehicle for the spirit to move to a higher order of being. Buddhism provides a path to enlightenment through meditation and the purging of desire. Judaism finds right relations with God through obedience to the Law and faithfulness to the covenant. Islam encourages its adherents to approach God through the practice of the five pillars of the faith. Native American folklore tells of man becoming eagle, and flying upward to the Great Spirit. Prayer and meditation are almost universal practices among the world religions. Truly, we have much in common, not the least of which is our inborn desire to come to God.

But unlike most of the tenets of the world’s religions, the foundational claim of Christianity is that the gulf between God and humanity is bridged by God. God becomes man. Paradoxically, omnipotent and eternal God chooses to be contained in the fragile, vulnerable body of a baby born into a violent and oppressive world, and entrusted to parents who themselves are powerless and poor. How audacious to think that the infinite would become finite! Why would God do such a thing?

The answer, of course, is love. God’s love is the driving force that brings God to us when we cannot find our way to God. All of our attempts at enlightenment, salvation, and purity are ultimately as much folly as a turtle trying to jump out of a well. So the God of light becomes Emmanuel (God with us) to lead us out of the darkness.

This may seem absurd to anyone who considers for a moment the immensity of God. But a story circulating online recently (author unknown) helps to make sense of it. There once was a farmer who didn’t believe in God, and thought this Emmanuel stuff was nonsense. One winter night, as a blizzard began to cover his farm with snow, he heard a loud thump that shook the house slightly; then another thump like the first. Looking outside, he could make out about a dozen wild geese, milling around in his yard, confused and panicked. Caught in the storm as they migrated south, now they were in danger of perishing.

The barn! There, he thought, the geese could ride out the storm. So he struggled over to the barn, opened the big door and waited for them to go inside. But the geese huddled vainly together for protection. He beat on the barn door to get their attention. He tried shooing them in, but this only frightened them more. He tried luring them into the barn with a trail of bread crumbs. Nothing he did brought the geese into the safety of his barn.

Then recognition came to him. The geese just won’t follow a man! Perhaps they will follow another goose. He went into the barn, picked up one of his farm geese and carried the scared bird out into the yard, circling around the wild flock to the side away from the barn. There he turned his bird loose. Honking and flapping its wings, his goose made a beeline into the barn, and the wild geese followed.

Later that evening, the paradox of Emmanuel suddenly made sense to the farmer. "The geese would not follow me. I was too frightening to them. They would only follow another goose."

For God so loved the world…

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