THE BODY GOD
“What if God should come as a human?” asked the professor of comparative religions with a smile. “Would he come as a Buddhist, all serene and peaceful? Would he come as a Moslem, all fiery and zealous? Or would he come as a Christian - middle class and well-off and loaded down with creature comforts?”
Now Mary is in her final month of pregnancy. She is as big as a house. The baby in her womb kicks with little feet, punches out with tiny fists. God is anxious to get out and discover the human experience. At night Joseph places his ear to Mary’s swollen stomach. How faint the heartbeat is, so faint, as if it were light years away. The Creator of the human race, growing human fingers and toes, submerged in human waters, nourished by human blood.
He could have been born in Nazareth in a warm room in a warm bed surrounded by family and friends, with a midwife to assist. Why did he make it so difficult for himself? Why did he make it so diff icult for Mary? A hundred miles or more on a donkey, jerking up and down over the rocky paths, biting her lip, her womb so agitated by the journey that by the time Joseph brings her into Bethlehem she has gone into labour.
And the town crammed with those who have come to register for the census, and the houses full of bright lights and noise and the loud laughter of parties and the loud voices of people who have had too much to drink, and strangers all around Mary, staring at her, leering at her, and she frightened and in pain. And rejected. At the inn, turned away. Until finally a cave carved out of a hillwillside, a stable, full of straw and manure and stink and animals seating and bellowing and stamping their feet in the evening chill.
So with the sound of fighting and drinking floating through the night air, Mary screams and bites the knotted cloth in her mouth and God erupts into Joseph’s hands in a gush of water and blood. In her pain and exhaustion, Mary laughs, as humans always laugh after the same anguish and pain and struggle to discover God when suddenly, joyously, they are born a second time, finding to their surprise that God is so very simple, so down-to-earth, so near at hand. And Joseph laughing, with fatherhood and relief, severing the umbilical cord, cutting free a God of bone and hair and skin. The Body God, howling as he is cupped in huge human hands nicked with poverty, the blood being scrubbed from his head and hands and feet, his body being cleaned of human gore, not for the last time.
And suddenly a dozen filthy men crowd into the stable and Joseph seizes his knife, but they do nothing but stare, their faces white in the light of one small torch. Their eyes are wide, they look like they have just seen ghosts. Who will ever believe them? Maybe it was too much wine, too little sleep, but look, the baby is there after all.
What do they understand as they squat in the shiver of light? Do they see God clinging to a woman’s breast for sustenance? Is it God they hear wailing into the cold dark? Thirty years later when the child wails down the long cave of death, stretched to a cross, will they recognize him as the one angels told them to find?
At an icy grey dawn Joseph sits by his wife and his quiet child - after crying most of the night, God has decided to have his first sleep. The stable boy comes in to feed the livestock and is startled to find Joseph and Mary there and a baby snoring in a feeding trough. Cursing and yelling at them for being vagrants, he throws them out. The baby wakes and begins to cry again, but Mary comforts him at her breast. Joseph places his arm around her and helps her back into Bethlehem.
There is no one to greet them and the town is as still as death. Practically everyone is hung over from the parties of the night before. Mary wraps God snugly against the cold and the three of them go from door to door. No one will respond to their knocking. Someone yells down at them: “Go away!”
But a Body God cannot vanish into thin air.