‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel’,
which means, ‘God is with us.’ (Matthew 1:23)
To speak of God being with us might be good news, or bad news, depending on what we believe God’s character is like.
When Nazi troops marched into Paris in 1940, their regulation belt buckle bore the legend ‘Gott mit Uns’, God with us, and I wonder how the French felt about what that God was visiting on them? The badge of the English Defence League bears a cross, below which the Latin inscriptions translates: ‘In this sign you will conquer‘ invoking the militant power of an Anglo-Saxon warrior God.
Even people who do not espouse a political or military cause find themselves readily imagining a vengeful God. When someone encounters personal tragedy or misfortune, I find them looking for what they might have done wrong, for which this devastation is punishment, a retribution for a past sin. Or they may simply see their pain as a sign that God has brutally inflicted a tragedy or, at the very least, been asleep on the job allowing catastrophe to befall them.
The ‘Son of God’ in the world of the Christmas stories is a title for Caesar, presiding over the brutal imperial army occupying Jesus’s homeland. The Roman God-with-us means domination by brute force — a fearful God-with-us.
The stories of Christmas were written to challenge and subvert this dark idea of God’s character. Matthew’s God-with-us is hunted by a king, one who has to leave his country. Luke’s God-with-us is visited by the poorest in the neighbourhood. This is not a brutal God, this is a God alongside people who are powerless, people who have been done to, people who feel forgotten. This is the character of the God of the Christian Gospels.
Andrew Spurr is Vicar of Evesham with Norton and Lenchwick in the diocese of Worcester.
Thanks to ‘Thinking Anglicans’ for Fr.Andrew Spurr’s insistence on the ‘God of Love’.
In a time when militant Christians (like the Leader of ‘Destiny Church’ in New Zealand) are keen to attribute to God a fierce and catastrophic response to human sin – in the shape of ‘natural disasters’ like earthquakes, tsunamis and endemic disease – here we have a priest of the Church of England preaching the Gospel, the Good News of God’s love for the world. In fact, “God loved the world SO MUCH”, that He sent his Only-Begotten Son into the world – so that all might come to see God’s mercy and forgiveness for all who look to Christ for salvation.
The idea of an Avenging God is one which has been for too long pushed by those who want God to be ‘on their side’ – like the army of the Third Reich, who really believed their extermination of the Jewish race and homosexuals to be God’s direct intention and purpose behind their atrocities against such people in their own and other countries of the world.
With hindsight, most people today believe that this sort of misunderstanding of God’s purpose for humanity is life-denying and totally contrary to the message of the Gospel – which proclaims the equality of all God’s children – whether Greek or Jew; male or female; rich or poor; straight or gay; black or white – in Christ there is no ‘superior’ race, gender or class.
Jesus overturned the human understanding of preferential status and entitlement, proclaiming God’s love for all people who are ready to treat others as they would be treated; to recognise their common human responsibility for their earthly home and for the welfare of one another without prejudice or preference – except that of being prepared to succour the weak, the vulnerable and the lowly, sometimes at cost to themselves.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand