The stole simply tells the story that really matters, of God come among us as a child, accepting us the way we are but loving us far to much to leave us that way.This is the foundation of historic Christianity.
In the manger Jesus becomes entirely part of our world. Everything in the world that God loves is touched in some way. Therefore simple hardball divinity, defined over against humanity, is wrong. Jesus demonstrates the ultimate fatuity of a dualistic notion of what it means to be God. This is ultimately incomprehensible to people who can only believe there is a God who loves them on the basis of serious evidence that their God hates someone else, preferably someone they don’t like. Religion that takes itself more seriously than true humanity easily becomes self-referential and life-denying. The old supremacist religious narrative that sets God over against human nature as a kind of gnostic superman turns out to be a silly bit of idolatry.
Jesus honoured the Pharisees for their high ideals, but drew attention of a bad Pharisaic habit — straining at gnats and swallowing camels — letting the details of a sub-narrative obscure the glory of the big narrative. Christianity has always been about Jesus and the resurrection — and this biggest narrative of all begins with the Christmas story. The only true absolutes are the baby in the manger, the blood on the cross, the empty tomb on the third day. The glory of the Big Narrative shows up the inadequacy of three popular sub-narratives often mistaken for Christianity:
- Christianity as an abstract, disembodied idea.
The religion of the Incarnation cannot be this, however tempting the concept may be. It is tempting because people are able to grasp and promote their own ideas much more easily than to kneel in wonder at the crib. To absolutise some mental construct, including a nostalgic or historicist conceptualisation of what has been, as though God were not continuously engaged in the unfolding life of humanity, is idolatry.
- Christianity as religion, or even Institutional Church.
If the geekery of the professional guardians of the Sacred is absolutized, something Jesus condemned again and again in his teaching, the point of the incarnation is lost. Every expression of Faith, including institutional ones, has its own validity (by its fruits you know it), but also its own limitation. If my Water comes from Thames Water it is absolutely true, in a narrow sense, to depend on it as my whole supply. This does not mean all the water in the world comes from Thames Water, or that somebody who got theirs from somewhere else was necessarily a heretic, or even the possessor of an inferior supply. The old Evangelical preacher in the marketplace who used to say “You don’t need Churchianity, you need Christ” was absolutely right in what he affirmed, though possibly blinkered in what he denied — Christ is the judge, the standard and the aim, and his Kingdom is bigger than any subset of his followers. It literally takes a whole world to know Christ.
- Christianity as mods v rockers — the war of the “Liberals” against “Orthodox.”
The whole terminology is inadequate and puerile. Only a fool with a weak grasp of the Incarnation would think such language appropriate to describe anything more than a feeble projection of human anxiety, cheap Pharisaism, left or right wing, masquerading as faith. Best stay out of the whole silly argument, because it is a greedy row, and those who make a life of indulging in it never seem to grow up to anything like their own potential.