It occurred to me today - the day after Christmas, my mother's 85th birthday - that the enormous holiday which is Christmas is first of all a birthday celebration. A feast-day, a name-day. & it brought to mind how important birthdays are in so many cultures around the world; & how, despite that fact that there seem to be much more weighty dimensions of Christianity (the kingdom of God; conversion, repentance; eternal life; the Trinity, & so forth), Christmas still a sort of birthday party, after all.
But maybe there's a way of thinking about this which reconciles these aspects - the kingdom of God & birthday parties. What is the kingdom of God, after all? Something we cannot enter "unless we become as little children." A kingdom of metamorphosis : not just a Disney fantasy or Tolkien movie, something we go back to "real life" from (out in the theater complex parking lot). The claims of Jesus for the kingdom of God are absolute : it's life outside the kingdom which is only a mirage. The actual Way, Truth, and Life emerge in tandem with the real kingdom of heaven.
Jesus's message ravels together many threads, and centers them on his own person. As Messiah, he brings the kingdom with him into Israel. As the Son of God, he reveals the true character of each person's relationship with his or her Creator : he is the exemplar of an actual spiritual bond each of us can claim with God. He celebrated this new actuality with feasting. We behold the image of Jesus traveling about, opening doors wide - welcoming the sick, the poor & sinners into his banquet of kingdom come - of God come to earth as Man, binding the two together.
What is it about birthdays? On birthdays, we celebrate & honor the unique, irreplaceable person. There is no substitute for a life : there is no one just like my mother; there is no one just like you; there is no one just like me. On birthdays we draw a magic circle around the life of one person, beginning with the day it began on earth : the day we came out of our mother's womb into the light of day : of time, space, love, pain, suffering, mortality...
Our birthday tracks back to our origins - in the womb, before the womb. Thus birthdays have a metaphysical dimension, residing in a mystery, "the original origin." Jesus says we must be born again to enter his kingdom : we must have a new birthday, which acknowledges the cosmic context of our original birthday. We are born into a relationship with the mysterious personhood of God. The entire cosmos was shaped to allow this bond of truth and love to become, to bloom - to fly free into multifarious, interplanetary "incarnations." Bloomsday, indeed!
& it occurs to me that the feast of Epiphany, coming soon, is another kind of birthday celebration (the Orthodox Christmas, in fact) - since the Magi, the "wise men," sought out Jesus following a star - an astrological, natal star, guiding them to the royal one who has just been born.
(Of course birthdays seem to be a writerly obsession with me... if you do a google search of this blog with the word "birthday" you'll see what I mean. Here's one example...)