Incarnation as Charge and Challenge

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pregnantGod became flesh. Incarnation – derived from the Latin in caro – to be made flesh. That is the miracle we celebrate at Christmas. Yet we hear the Christmas story so often that we speed right past the scandal of it. Imagine for a moment that you had never heard the story of Jesus. You have lived on an island somewhere your entire life. You have a concept of God that includes things like how God is omniscient (all knowing), omnipotent (all powerful), omni-present, beyond time, eternal, without beginning or end. You also have a clear understanding of what it means to be human, with all of the accompanying frailty, limitations, and frustrating ups and downs. Now imagine someone comes to you with a rather fantastic and outlandish story. Someone dares to tell you that God, with all that makes God, chose to become flesh with all that comes with a body like yours. Imagine.

older-handsImagine how God would descend to endure a body with the indignity of hiccups and indigestion. God would take on bodies like ours, that so readily disappoint us time and again. Bodies that can gain weight, age quickly, suffer allergies, succumb to infection and disease, quit producing insulin, and suffer any number of dangerous reactions to temperature, trauma, and environment. Bodies like yours and mine – that fumble through life experiencing all kinds of aches, pains, bruises, and wounds. Imagine.

What does this mean? God takes on a body at Christmas. God becomes flesh. God becomes a baby. What does that say about bodies? My body? Your body? Other people’s bodies? Think about it a moment.

wheelchairWhat does this miracle say about

… unborn bodies still in the womb?

… little bodies – children, full of energy and vitality, but who are often shushed, dismissed or ignored?

… incarcerated bodies in our jails and prisons?

… immigrant bodies?

… black bodies? … white bodies? … brown bodies?

… trafficked bodies?

… disabled bodies?

… hungry bodies with little or no food?

… naked bodies without sufficient clothing or shelter from the elements?

… wounded bodies in need of healing and care?

… aged bodies that are failing and in need of assistance and compassion?

God became flesh and dwelt among us. God came in flesh so that God could redeem all flesh. That is the scandal, the miracle, and the great promise of Christmas.

The Christian year revolves around three main events – those three long “tion” words that pop up around Christmas, Holy Week, and Easter – incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection. But perhaps we should remember that without incarnation, the crucifixion would be a kind of non-event. So what? A man died by execution of the state some 2000 years ago. That is not news. That is certainly not new. Unfortunately, that is a story we have already heard over and over and over again. What makes this one execution different – what makes it so shocking, so amazing, and such a radical moment to transform all other moments is that the man who hung on the cross was not only fully human – he was also fully God. God in flesh. The crucified God.

There is reason in this holy season to sing carols, bring offerings, worship, and celebrate this incredible event that took place in Bethlehem so long ago. Yet, as we journey together this Advent, I invite us to reflect deeply as we peer around the tree, unwrap the presents, drink wassail and eat special treats. Let us not fail to remember the radical miracle that is present in the child born to Mary. And let us never fail to remember the implications that this holy mystery has on our own physical bodies and the bodies of every man, woman, and child in our family, church, community, and world. The incarnation is not just about Jesus, it is also a challenge and a charge to every single one of us who would come to adore and worship this child born of Mary. Our charge? Our challenge? To welcome, to embrace, to stand with, to advocate for, and to defend with our lives and our bodies the dignity of every single beloved treasure that God has so generously and miraculously placed in these – our bodies – these very earthly, fragile, yet magnificent and beautiful “clay pots.” (2 Corinthians 4:7)

I leave you with this poem on the incarnation by Luci Shaw, titled “Descent:”

Down he came from up,
and in from out,
and here from there.
A long leap,
an incandescent fall
from magnificent
to naked, frail, small,
through space,
between stars,
into our chill night air,
shrunk, in infant grace,
to our damp, cramped
earthy place
among all
the shivering sheep.
And now, after all,
there he lies,
fast asleep.

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