Incarnation sounds like such a difficult word–ecclesiastical and weighty, academic and esoteric. The word seems far removed from the festivities of Christmas, either in their more secular and commercial expressions or in the carols and pageants of the season. Incarnation derives from the Latin, meaning “to become flesh, to give something a bodily form.” It’s the heart of the Christmas story. The Word became flesh and lived among us. God out there or up there ceased to be merely a philosophical abstraction and walked with us in a person. God has come to us. Jesus, the ultimate self-revelation of God, fully God and fully human, is a pretty hard concept to communicate, and yet fundamental to how we understand our faith.
A risk for people of faith is to so emphasize the spiritual and miraculous qualities of the story of Jesus and the uniqueness of God’s revelation in Christ, that we overlook the essential human elements and forget that Jesus really was flesh and blood, an eating, breathing, crying, laughing, hoping, fearing, working, playing person. Jesus was a person, a real and tangible human being, or else all of this makes no sense at all.
This Advent I’ve been drawn to contemplation on Mary and the birth of Jesus by a couple poems written by a friend, John Thornburg. John is a pastor, songwriter, and teacher who now specializes in congregational singing (see www.congregationalsinging.com).
The Word Made Flesh
His heels stretched her skin.
His fingers poked her from inside.
With joy we say,
Benedictus fructus ventrus tui.
Blessed is the one who came from your body.
He was her real son, no metaphor adrift in space.
When time was ripe, and death was near, he said,
“This is my body, given for you.”
He learned these words from her.
Called to Ponder Mystery
If everything were known,
if we could quantify the ‘why,’
explain the ‘how’ and name the ‘when,’
then nothing would remain
but naming who was rightest of the right,
and blaming those who got it wrong.
Know this alone;
The One who made us came to us.
It is enough.
As human beings, each one of us is unique to an extent that no member of any other species is different from others of its kind. Our experiences, thoughts, perceptions, gifts, abilities, appearances, insights, wills, fears, hopes, and loves are ours alone and uniquely. And yet in our following Christ, God’s spirit takes bodily form again and again. The weighty notion of incarnation repeats itself joyfully and gracefully as we give God’s spirit room and allow God’s spirit to give us life anew and to call us forth. Our lives in Christ are infinite expressions of a singular birth.
I will be praying for our congregations and their people this Christmas. May our music and candlelight and Christmas lunches and soup kitchens and prayers and worship services give tangible expression to the miracle of God’s presence with us once more.
Yours in Christ,