God becoming flesh and blood, if you think about it, is preposterous. How does the Creator of everything become the created? How does the infinite become finite, the all-powerful become weak and vulnerable to everything we ourselves experience? And why would God do that? Why would God’s self be limited to become flesh and blood, and on top of that, move in with us?
Moving Into The Neighbourhood
Around this time of the year, the Christmas carols we sing are full of names describing Jesus. Immanuel (God with us), Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace, King of Kings, Bright Morning Star and Son of David, to name a few. The Christmas celebration, however, can be summed up in one word: incarnation, which literally means ‘God taking on flesh.’
Although the gospels of Mathew and Luke narrate the birth stories of Jesus, the Gospel of John says, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (1:1).’ The Message’ translation goes on to describe the incarnation particularly well (1:14):
The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighbourhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish.
Perhaps it’s difficult to get our heads around the idea of the ‘Word’ who was there before creation, the Son of Man, entering the world just like us. He was there in the beginning and yet Mary was his mother. ‘All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being (1:3)’, and yet baby Jesus was born in a feeding trough? Hmmm.
Following creation, God took a moment and saw that everything he had made was very good (Genesis 1:31). Think about the times you’ve sat back and looked at the mountains, a river, or a beach and thought, wow God, what an unbelievably beautiful world.
The downside to the story, of course, is we’ve messed up our relationship with God and creation through selfishness and sin (Genesis 3). When two people who love each like there’s no tomorrow, have a ‘falling out’, there’s often one thing on their minds. What action do we need to take to make things right again? That question is all consuming until they are reunited. Sometimes I wonder whether we treat the Word made flesh, the coming of Jesus, like that, focusing solely on the one act that makes everything right.
Don’t Miss The Enormity Of God Become Flesh
Redemption found at the cross of Jesus—that wonderful selfless (the opposite to our selfishness) act of grace and mercy—can be all consuming, but we do need to be careful. Thinking Jesus’ incarnation as an item on a checklist necessary for the cross suggests God’s sole motivation to become one of us was purely transactional. When we believe God—in the person of Jesus—came only to offer us a ‘get out of jail free card,’ we miss the enormity of the incarnation and the magnitude of God. We risk making the whole thing about us and our personal salvation, rather than the overarching vision of all things reconciled to God. The Apostle Paul, who hints at the idea that redemption and relationship with God and each other are closely intertwined, uses the word ‘reconciliation’ for what Christ has done.
So, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So, we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-21 NRSV)
Being reconciled suggests relationship is foremost on God’s mind. We are redeemed for relationship with God, of which salvation is the undeserved and beautiful outcome.
An ‘Arrow Down’ God
A friend of mine, my old theological college principal, explains Christianity as ‘arrow down.’ When I asked him what that meant, he simply said this; ‘with all the other religions and all the other gods, people are desperate to reach their god. The initiative begins with humanity trying to reach a god – arrow up. What we have in Jesus, the revelation of God, is ‘arrow down.’ Our God, the Christian God, made the first move and became one of us. As image bearers of God (Gen 1:27), through Jesus, we have been redeemed and therefore invited into the dynamic relationship within God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. None of this would be possible without the Word made flesh.
Of course, if we are redeemed for relationship with God, that means participating in God’s world. Having been reconciled to God through Christ—explains Paul—we have been entrusted, as Ambassadors, with the message of reconciliation (see above). The Word made flesh lives on in neighbourhoods all around the world, through those who call themselves followers of Jesus. That is a high calling that some of us might not feel up to. Perhaps Jesus has more faith in us than we have in ourselves? Whatever the case, I’ll give it my best shot in my own neighbourhood and see what I can do to support communities struggling with poverty around the world.
How about you?