Christmas and the Incarnation
At Hebrew Union College where I studied, there was a beloved Bible professor named Dr. Brichto. He would periodically mention in class that, in his opinion, the Christian idea that God entered our world in the person of Jesus was the most beautiful concept in all religion. He, as a devout Jew, made clear that he didn’t believe God was actually incarnate in Jesus. But he did believe it was the loveliest thought in all religion. This beautiful truth—that Jesus is our Immanuel (our with-us God)—is what we celebrate at Christmas. But the irony here is that while Christians believe in the incarnation intellectually, we often cannot see what is so charming about it.
What is so lovely about the Christmas concept of the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ? Three things come to mind.
1) The incarnation teaches us something wonderful about God’s humble self-giving love. God has taken up this lowly human form and identified with all the brokenness and pain of our human condition. Imagine a king who laid aside his splendor to live with the peasants and to teach them how they can share in his glorious kingdom. We would find that kind of self-sacrificial love heroic and exemplary. And indeed, this is something like what God has done.
2) The second beautiful thing about the incarnation is what it tells us about ourselves and our humanity. We, even in our sinful state, are worth saving. Jesus emptied himself and took on human form because he deemed us worth the sacrifice. We may not be worthy of this sacrifice but we are worth it. At least, God thinks so.
3) The incarnation also puts on display the new humanity into which we are called. Christ’s self-giving love is to be replicated in us. We walk alongside those in need. This was exactly the point Paul draws from the incarnation in the hymn of Phil 2:5-11; that is, Christians are to have this “Christ” mind of self-sacrificial love.
This triple meaning for the incarnation—what it says about God, us, others—reminds us of our values in ministry. The Christmas incarnation shapes the AsOne cultural ethos. We walk beside those we serve because God in Christ walked beside us. We live among, not above because God lived among us. We serve as friends, not experts. We listen more than we preach. We learn first, love foremost, and live alongside. Poverty boils down to broken relationships. In Christ, we have become receivers of reconciliation and agents of reconciliation. We are the broken healers who are healed in return.
As my bishop says, in Christ, heaven and earth kissed each other. May we capture the kiss of Immanuel afresh this season. And may your Advent be blessed with the light of the incarnate Christ.