By the Rev. Eric Long
The incarnation of God in Christ is the principal distinguishing characteristic of the Christian faith. The notion that a Holy God would inhabit human skin is alien – even abhorrent – to many faiths. Yet this is our faith.
It is also our hope: that with the coming of this peasant newborn, God fully entered the human story to write it anew from the inside out. Obviously, there is much mystery here, making the theology of the incarnation seem more remote than it should. In actuality, God’s decisive action in the life of Jesus of Nazareth makes Christianity as earthy and everyday as romance, war, muddy children, and Mondays. Each of these, along with every other aspect of life in this world, has been touched intimately by the God who entered it all. This is the theology of the incarnation.
This might be lost on the passive observer of the Christian faith, and sadly many adherents as well, who erroneously believe Christianity is about passing through this world with an eye only to the next. Such thinking makes the incarnation indecipherable. Jesus came to this world, instead of pulling us out of it. He did so because “God so loved the world” he created as good, that he gave all of himself to save it, so that God’s will may be finally and completely done “on earth, as in heaven.” Thus, Jesus was born into the world, for the life of the world.
God’s redemption of the created order has been the constant, ancient hope of the Judeo-Christian tradition. The prophet Habakkuk envisioned the great day when “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (2:14), and the book of Revelation defines the consummation of all things as a restored heaven and earth, with God making his home among mortals (21:1, 3). Therefore, the Christian faith is not about retreat from the world, but the resurrection of the world through the incarnate God who brings new life to all, from inside it all.
This also sounds very dense and untouchable. Yet again, the precise opposite is the point. The incarnation is God’s ultimate declaration that human life – your life – matters in its totality. It is why Christians, following Jesus, feed the bellies of the hungry and not just attend souls. It’s why the violence of this world, which now seems to cover the earth, must not diminish hope, for the Prince of Peace did not stay tucked away in a peaceful heaven, but visited this violent place in love, reconciliation, and resurrection. Thus, even in the face of the brokenness we daily see playing out in our streets, which seems inevitably endless, we believe God is not done with the world. Not only did God create it all as good, but more important, in Jesus, entered it, to restore it as good. We are emissaries of this message, for we are witnesses of the Incarnate Lord.
So let other gods stay far away, removed from the rough and tumble of life in the real world. Let other gods reside quietly in heavens beyond. The God we meet in Jesus is, thankfully, no such God.
No, our God is the one who does not walk red carpets but the way of the cross. Ours is the God who is not only found in cathedrals but in a peasant’s manger reserved for livestock. Jesus resides not only in the heavens beyond but in the world in which he made his home and will powerfully reclaim as his own again.
In Jesus, we meet the world’s salvation, not through escape, but rescue and restoration.
This is the story of Christmas.
In the Joy and Hope of the Incarnation,
The Reverend Eric Long, Rector