This morning’s reading from the Letter to the Hebrews begins with the boldest and most unambiguous statement possible of what’s new and different about Christmas. God has always been communicating with humanity, in any number of ways; but what we need from God is more than just information. The climax of the story is the sending of a Son: when all has been said and done on the level of information what still needs to be made clear to us is that the point of it all is relationship. God speaks at last through a Son, so that we can grasp the fact that really knowing God, really responding to his Word of promise and life, is a matter of relationship. It’s becoming God’s child. And the consequence is that we ourselves learn to speak and act in such a way that others want to share that relationship.
The Son, says the writer to the Hebrews, is the heir of all creation; the Son is the lifegiving principle of all reality; the Son radiates and reflects the unimaginable beauty and light of the source from which he comes. When the Son is born among us, what happens is that this unlimited, unending torrent of light and glory, of intelligence and order and loving contemplation is poured into the container of a human mind and body. Through what he then does in that human mind and body, the possibilities for human life are changed for ever, and we are invited into the same place in heaven that the Son occupies for ever – the place that St John’s gospel defines as ‘ nearest to the Father’s heart’. And the letter-writer triumphantly claims that our human destiny is thus to be even closer to God than the angels are. Christian poets and thinkers have often imagined the angels looking at us with amazement – such very unpromising material, such limited capacities, such a genius for self-deception and pettiness, yet promised such a future.
Relationship is the new thing at Christmas, the new possibility of being related to God as Jesus was and is. But here’s the catch and the challenge. To come into this glorious future is to learn how to be dependent on God. And that word tends to have a chilly feel for us, especially us who are proudly independent moderns. We speak of ‘dependent’ characters with pity and concern; we think of ‘dependency’ on drugs and alcohol; we worry about the ‘dependent’ mind set that can be created by handouts to the destitute. In other words, we think of dependency as something passive and less than free.