Updated: Jan 6
When you stop and think about it, the central point of the Christmas story is so immense that it should knock us out of our chairs and leave us stunned and amazed.
Almighty God, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the Creator of the universe, the One who was and is and is to come, choosing to become fully human. And choosing to do so as any other human does, by being born as a vulnerable dependent baby.
The Church through the ages has been quite clear on this truth: God did not act human or put on a human seeming. God became human, the Word became flesh, and as a fully human being experienced fully the human reality. Scabby knees and runny noses. Teenage acne and the woes of puberty. Growth pains and everything connected with maturing from an infant into a thirty-something year old man.
When Jesus was born, it was a full commitment to living in this world, with all of its joy and gladness, all of its pain and sorrow. It was a full commitment to being an embodied person, in the flesh, physically present and tied to the earth.
It was a commitment to the here and now.
That’s one of the important lessons we’re offered in the incarnation. God loves this world, this physical, created, broken and bruised, beat up world. God loves the stuff of this world, the people, the animals, the plants, the hills and valleys, the seas and rivers. God loves this real physical world so much that God committed God’s own self to living fully within it.
So the lesson is that we are meant to pay attention to this world, this physical space, our own here and now. As God entered into time and space in a very particular way, we are bound to our own time and space and called to be active participants in continually bringing God’s love and justice to here and now.
Another earthshaking, foundation-shifting part of the story is how God chose to enter this physical world. Yes, as a baby, but more precisely, as a poor baby. As a refugee child. As a homeless man. As an executed criminal. These are chapters in God’s fully human life, in the truly nitty gritty of the margins of society.
What do we learn from this part of the story? If we’re looking for God, we should look on the streets before the penthouse. Since God chose to be fully human with fishermen and tax collectors and prostitutes, we should probably expect God to continue to show up the places proper society wouldn’t ordinarily be found. God is in the shadows, in the dumps, in the wastelands, in the forgotten places.
And what does God offer in those overlooked places? Healing. Nourishment. Blessing. Compassion. Presence. Abundance.
That’s what we’re invited to carry with us as well, as followers of this Incarnate God, to the places where God is already waiting. When the Gospel of John 1:5 declares “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it,” it’s an active image. The light is shining in the darkness, and we are invited, if not commanded, to be bearers of that light, love, mercy, grace, justice, hope, life.
The birth of Jesus turns the world on its head, which is exactly what God intends. Mary did know, and sang about it in the Gospel of Luke:
God has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. (Luke 1:51b-53)
May this Advent season prepare us to join God in living fully in this beautiful, broken world. May this Christmas season open our hearts to see the face of God in the nitty gritty realities of this life, this here and how. May our voices raised in singing “peace on earth” fill us with the fire of the Spirit to pursue that peace today and every day.
Grace and Peace,