At Christmastime, I think we neglect to remember the myrrh-bearing magi with his funereal spices. We tend toward celebrating the novelty of birth as an end in itself, but I think that the most beautiful part of the nativity of Jesus is not the innocent child in swaddling clothes suckling at his mother’s breast, a vignette of oxytocin-driven dreams; but the very enfleshment of god which necessarily presages death.
The wisdom of christianity has, I think, always been the mingling of joy and sorrow, gain and loss; the sustaining of opposites in perpetual paradox. I remember my sons, newly born, and that my ecstasy was in some intractable way alloyed with fears, anxieties, and sadness: for their safety, my probable failure as a father, the guilt of having brought an unbroken being to be broken in a shattered world, the likelihood that they would never love me as much as I loved them. Ah, but the paradox is unassailable. To be blessed is to be wounded. To be saved is to be lost. To live, to be born, is to die.
God, in the incarnation (at least in my estimation), redeemed matter by condescending into it not by elevating it. God began the process of the redemption of humanity, not by lifting it out of its nature but by entering into its nature. To become enfeebled and finite. To be born with the shadow of death already present in the cradle, the scent of the pall and tomb wafting from a jar. To enter into relationship with creatures who by the slow movements of the ages — the generation of many generations — came to understand the moral interplay of amoral matter by witnessing self as object among objects, selves. To recognize the other and in turn be the other.
God came down and dwelt among us. He sensed with our capricious organs. He entered into our very being to experience the world as us and call us not out of ourselves but into an imitation of him who embodies us as we could ideally be. The beauty of god’s flesh-made birth is that he embraced the inevitability of death, divestment of power, resignation into weakness. Only after being powerless and weak and only after dying, does god defeat death, all powers and principalities, all boldness and might.