What I call God: What Miranda might teach us about the weakness of God

The Vicarage is on the edge of its seat; this is the year we say farewell to that Miranda off of the telly. We have loved following her and her bizarre, clumsy ways, her ridiculous story lines, and most of all, ‘What I call her mother’.

I love Miranda’s frustrated responses to her mother’s constant prefacing of obvious and universally-understood words with ‘what I call’. Rather ridiculously, this phrase helps me stumble upon the revealing of God at Christmas – though I recognise that may seem, initially, a bit of a jump.

You see, people do God at Christmas; well, if they don’t actually do God, they certainly do the idea of God. This is the time of year when people remember, think about, sing about, sometimes talk about ‘What I call God,’ ‘What you call God,’ What they call God.’

But what do you call God?

Sitting in prayer, I often become aware that the Idea of God, the being of God, is beyond the comprehension of my mind – yet Christmas is a celebration of God in flesh, God in the stuff that I can see, and encounter, and understand. Christmas is an invitation for us all to begin to explore again, even meet for the first time, the God who is behind and above what I call God.

‘What has come into being in him was life.’

There had been stories of gods becoming human before, but they were normally hero stories; but not so, this Christmas story. Here, in the Incarnation, we have God revealed in human form. Actually, it can feel like an all too-human manner. It is so earthly, so mundane a way that whilst it certainly makes God approachable, it perhaps disappoints or even scares us. What God is this, that can be seen and touched, that relies on an earthly mother, that is so easily threatened by a despotic King, that could so easily be killed? How can God be immanent, fleshy, vulnerable? Is that really what I call God?

What particularly stops me in my tracks about the revelation of God in Christ is considering whether this limiting of God in human form is neither temporary nor new for God. Rather, perhaps what we encounter at Christmas, that has been made safe by Victorian and Georgian carols, is that the God of the crib is not ‘What I call God’.

What the prophet Isaiah called God was one with a Holy Arm – I suppose that will smite the enemies of peace. In Christmas, though, this holy arm does not reach out to us through the strength of heaven’s militia, but wrapped in swaddling cloths.
Despite what the Jewish and Roman people of Jesus’ day called God, the God revealed at Christmas did not come to fix things on our behalf. God is not revealed as a cosmic Santa Claus who gives the good children what they want – much as we might want that to be the case.

Jesus lifted the veil that shrouded God in a way that was suppose to stop the powerful from employing him in their armies – which worked for a few centuries.
What Christ called God is not violent and does not come with military strength. Much to my surprise, the God of Jesus Christ is weak, dependent on others accepting an invitation to resist the lies of the strong and make our home with the weak and despised; a life that seeks the joy of the many rather than the pleasure of a few.

‘What has come into being in him was life.’

For life to be all that it can be, it must be free – free to grow, to be creative, to make choices, to develop. A life that has been planned and specifically-ordered by a bureaucratic God of terrifying detail and design can only enjoy or curse its preordained place in the cosmos. Similarly, an accidental life bears no need for responsibility for any other accidental lives and mutations; dog eat dog, unless every now and again you have a feeling of what I call charity. Counter-intuitively, only life that is seen to flow from such a weak God like that of Jesus Christ can be free, sharing the responsibility with God and all creation to seek the freedom of life for all.

Of course, this life needs to be nurtured, fed, given light. And on this, God has intervened in Jesus Christ, in whom life dwelt so fully, so beautifully, that his life still calls people today. Jesus grew up trusting in the Spirit of life so much that he believed, even in the times of terrible anguish, loss, and death, that nothing could not bring it to an end. That life was far more than just the material, physical thing that we all take for granted. Rather, life is something that endures; just as life was not something any of us chose but came from beyond us, so Jesus believed life would be held by God, even in and beyond death. I wonder if this was the faith that gave Jesus the ability to stand up to the autocrats of his own day, knowing what he would eventually face if he were to do so.

‘What has come into being in him was life.’

In Jesus, we are invited to see again What I call God and What I call life. Our lives can be frustratingly limited – physically, materially, mentally. Yet, seeing our lives through the One who is born this night, who is revealed in such weakness, invites us to see our life as a connection – a connection to others who also have life, and a connection to the divine, to God, who is not only the source of life, but is life itself. God’s Spirit moves through all life, and for those who dare to build on the promises of Jesus that life will endure even death, this Spirit will embolden us to be weak with him, and resist the strength of the scaremongers with their armies. Weakness, which any strongman masks with the might of wealth, muscles, armies, and success, turns out to be the very character trait that connects all of humanity, and God. Living a weak, vulnerable, undefended life that seeks friendship with the support of the downtrodden and the marginalised, turns out to be the beginning of living a fearless and flourishing life, and the darkness will not overcome it.

‘What has come into being in him was life.’

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About fancourt

I'm the Parish Priest of St Luke with St Bartholomew in Reading, U.K (http://www.lukeandbart.org.uk). This is mainly a blog of sermons, and I'd welcome your thoughts on what I write. I've taken a bit more time to write about my thoughts about the church in today's world in a little book called Brand New Church? (Review of it here: http://admiralcreedy.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/book-review-brand-new-church.html).
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