A plaque has been installed recently on a building in Budapest commemorating its architect, Károly Hegedős. His daughter commented: ‘We usually celebrate the famous person who lived in a certain house, but we rarely know anything about its architect.’ The case seems to be similar regarding Jesus: ‘He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.’ (John 1:10–11) One should have recognized him, and received him, for everything here was made through him.
In contemporary theology, deep incarnation expresses the notion that incarnation happens not only through a person but through all of creation. Incarnation means not only that the Word assumes a human body and personality, but also that it becomes tangible and susceptible to laws of nature. The Son of God enters this world, he becomes of this world in his entire being: his relationships, his footprint, his touch, his human metabolism all become part of the world his Father loved so that he sent Christ into it (John 3:16). There is no other religion that can express better than Christianity the polarity of being Creator and creature at the same time, in the same person. We express this concisely in our confessions of faith with the term ‘God became man’, but we may grasp it in a wider context as well: the Creator of the world becomes an endemic creature in the world. I mean that in the same sense as Paul, who used the word endemeo, meaning ‘to be among one’s own people, dwell in one’s own country, stay at home,’ to describe man’s earthly, immanent existence, his presence in this world (2Corinthians 5:6–9).
The manger of Bethlehem becomes the center of Creation, the entire world appears there symbolically. In the words of Tertullian, ‘whatever was the form and expression which was then given to the clay (by the Creator), Christ was in His thoughts as one day to become man.’ If Tertullian is correct, then all creation is centered around the manger. The light of the first day turns now into darkness. The sky of the second day touches now the earth. From the land created on the third day came up the branch from Jesse, who set out from the Sea of Galilee (Luke 1:26) only to return there. The star set in the sky on the fourth day stopped over the stable. The winged seraphim created on the fifth day (Isaiah 6) come to praise God and sing a trine hymn to the triune God. The creatures of the sixth day are all there too, small and large, rich and poor, wretched and exalted alike. All movement – the search of the Magi, the fright of the shepherds, the praise sung by the heavenly host – is centered on the Son now entering our common home, who takes the greatest step of all: the pent-up Word is finally uttered, it has come in our midst.
The close connection between the care for our common home and Christmas is highlighted best by a phrase used by Eastern apologists and church fathers: oikonomia, meaning both divine providence and incarnation in a Christological sense. This term expresses that God’s care for our common home (oikos) is not only realised in the laws (nomos) he gave us to govern our lives and affairs, but also by the Lawgiver himself coming under the law in order to fulfill it. God’s providence for mankind was best revealed when he showed us in his human likeness how to be at home in our home: how to exist without pride, ignorance, and exploitation. We do not make ourselves at home when we close in on ourselves, and isolate ourselves from others; instead, to truly feel at home in this world, we must move about freely in it, just as Jesus moved with the greatest ease in any environment, under any conditions: on land and on water, in town and in village, at a wedding or at a wake, sitting down or standing up, hungry or well-fed.
Many authors tried to grasp the essence of home, looking past the space enclosed by walls, or home decor. ‘We all know that home is more than the four walls and the objects within, home – is a sanctuary. A person who has somewhere – and someone – to go home to will always weather life’s conflicts and trials better. Home to me means there is someone to listen to me and comfort me,’ Hungarian author Magda Szabó writes. There are emotions, connections, companions in a home. It is not defined by the address; home is wherever Jesus is at home. But it is more than feelings and familiar scents; we experience being at home as creatures in our relation to our Creator.
Christmas is a holiday spent at home, so we do our best to make it intimate. Christmas ads emphasize the coziness; they suggest ideas and products that are – supposedly – essential in enhancing this intimate atmosphere, especially for the children’s sake. But these are only tricks and gimmicks; we all crave this feeling of home, but we know that it does not depend on what we can buy. But what does it depend on?
Students of theology in the Reformed Church in Hungary are sent into legation on every church holiday, spending Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost away from their families, often preaching God’s Word in small, out-of-the-way places. Train rides around Christmastime were often bizarre journeys, with legates sitting around idly in the long carriages, waiting for the train to move. Stoppages were most often caused by people committing suicide, driven by their loneliness felt so much more acutely around the holiday. This is how the darkness, deepest before midwinter, rages demonically, while elsewhere, people gather in family circles and rejoice over the birth of Christ.
I will never forget the cold winter night when I was on my way to Bogyiszló, a village in the Transdanubian region, when I had to walk some miles from the train station Tolna-Mözs to reach the rectory. As I was walking all alone in the middle of nowhere, I felt infused with such strength and peace as if I had come home: the countryside glimmered with fresh snow, the trees stood tall against the night sky, the air was clean and crisp. I was not surrounded by friends or family, there was no Christmas tree, no warmth, no fine dinner – yet God was there.
(Published in Vigilia 2017/12, translated by Judit Székács)