Skip to site content

Why We Only Focus on Jesus’ Humanity at Christmas

I am suspicious. I was suspicious before I ever knew about a hermeneutic of suspicion.

I am suspicious that many of us in the “evangelical” (always have to put that in quotes) side of the church are not very comfortable with the humanity of Jesus.

You would not think this at Advent or Christmas when we go to great lengths to emphasize his human birth.

But I am not always sure who we are trying to convince – for it seems to me that for much of the rest of the time in the church, the humanity of Jesus is not stressed.

When it is mentioned, it is always accompanied by the “but he was also divine you know,” in a nullifying non-orthodox sort of way.

Preaching from the Gospels tends to be often aimed at showing his divinity just in case it has become lost in this human Jesus. The life of Jesus is only given significance as the preliminaries to his death.

People get very uptight when you suggest that we need the humanization of the church for the sake of mission.

Contrary to the evangelical tendency I’ve described above, it seems pretty clear to me (and John and Paul and others) that the mission of God took the downward movement to humanity.

It appears, however, that since we know the prequel and the sequel, we cannot quite cope with this part of the story.

One might argue that this is out of confessional respect for the divinity of Jesus. I am not sure because I am suspicious.

Whatever the reasons, as a consequence I suspect that we are not keen on this part of the story because it is actually our part – the human part, the episode we are starring in.

Here we run into difficulties. We are not sure of the part we are playing. For while we are pretty sure what bad humanity looks like, we have never quite settled on what a good human Christian might look like – other than not being like the bad ones.

But perhaps it is more than that. Maybe it is because we actually do know what a good human Christian is meant to look like and that is like Jesus.

This, however, is the sort of thing we want to avoid because this really does call for a change (repentance, conversion and all that stuff) and not simply for us to be a church-going version of respectable citizenship.

The above would make sense about why we stress the divinity of Jesus rather than his humanity, and stress the divine in the Gospels rather than the human.

Because the more we can keep his story separate from our story, the less we need to see his story as the script for the part we are meant to play.

This move is really clever because it allows us to simultaneously keep our distance from Jesus, our own humanity, and the humanity of others – all in the name of God.

This being the case, the sooner we get Christmas over with the better – then we can go back to how it was before: what Frost calls an ‘ex-carnated’ Christianity – which is no Christianity at all.

But as I said, I am just suspicious.

Merry Christmas!

Stuart Blythe is associate professor of the John Gladstone Chair in Preaching and Worship at Acadia Divinity College, Nova Scotia. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, Politurgy, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @StuartMBlythe.