On the first Christmas, God showed up and loved out. And it was that simple, ever since the world hasn’t been the same.
*** JESUS’ INCARNATION ***
In smart-Christian circles, they call this incarnation (in my circles we call it “God in a bod“). It’s a word that gets floated around during Christmas as we reflect on the Word becoming flesh. And during this season of my life, it’s a reality that’s having a most profound impact on me.
In as practical terms as possible, incarnation means this…
I step completely into your mess, no matter how messy it is.
I offer myself, at the expense of myself, for the sake of you.
I choose to be fully present in situations I want nothing to do with.
All because I love you.
What really makes incarnation a showstopper is the fact it implies that the historical Jesus of Nazareth, was actually, in the full sense of all its incomprehensible implications, the Creator God. The poetry of Philippians 2 does well:
Though he was God,
He did not think of equality with God
As something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
He took the humble position of a slave
And was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
He humbled himself in obedience to God
And died a criminal’s death on a cross.
*** MY RESPONSE ***
As a follower of Jesus, called to take upon myself this “same attitude that Christ Jesus had,” (see verse 5) I can’t help but think one thing, “I can’t.”
I wouldn’t do that. You wouldn’t that. I can’t help but feel helpless after reading this passage. Helpless against myself, my gut, my thoughts, my subconscious. Helpless to cut against the grain of human nature. Because I wouldn’t do that. Would you?
Jesus, though equal with God, did not think of equality with him as something to cling to, but humbled himself and showed up to love out. But I, on the other hand, though unequal with God, often think of equality with him as something to cling for. So I elevate myself, everyday, and frantically grasp at any sort of power I can, believing in my heart that if I can acquire enough this side of heaven then perhaps I can make myself a God this side of heaven.
[Sigh. Face palm. SMH.] I’m so pathetic sometimes.
People always count power of any sort as something to “cling to.” That’s our nature. We always count authority, esteem, fame, prestige, wealth, clout as something to gather. And when we get much of it, we want more. Yet here’s Jesus, sacrificing the ultimate power, and choosing to live in a Bethlehem manger and die on a Jerusalem cross.
And I look at such epic poetry, incarnated in the life of one man, and I think, “I wouldn’t that.”
*** WHAT INCARNATION TELLS US ABOUT GOD AND LOVE ***
Incarnation is hugely important to understand in our efforts to wrap our mind around what it means to be God and, consequently, what it means to be (in the active sense of the phrase) created in God’s image. You see, Jesus’ decision was not a decision to stop being God. Instead, it was a decision about what it really meant to be God. This wasn’t a denial of divinity, but the very definition of it. God is love. And that’s what love looks like.
When people ask me about incarnation – the human birth, life, and death of God – probably the most common question I get is simple – “Why?”
“Why would THE God put himself through that? Why a manger? Life? Death? A cross? Why choose such brutality? If he was in fact God, why not something easier? Less bloody? More God-ish? Couldn’t he have just snapped his fingers? Couldn’t he have just nodded or spoke or thought his will into existence? Why?”
And for me, the answer is simple. That’s what love required. That’s how God’s very essence reacted. Chalk it up to reflex. Love required a manger, a life, a cross, or at least something like it. As part of his very own self-revelation, Jesus defined what love is through incarnation.
True love is always personal. You can’t love someone from a distance. You can’t love someone at arm’s length. You must be close enough to feel their pain before they’re close enough to feel your love. You must empty yourself emotionally to fill them emotionally. You must become part of their story to change it.
How would your view of God change if he just snapped his fingers or nodded his head? I’d appreciate the gesture. I’d be forever grateful for such divine favor. But I wouldn’t see the Christian God of the Bible I worship today. The God that showed up and loved out. He lived in the world I live, experienced the pains I’m experiencing, walked the paths I’m walking, and lived my story to change it.
Have you ever had a prayer turned down? He has too. Have you ever been deserted? He has too. Betrayed? He too. Insulted by folks you love? Check. Poor? Yep. Lied to? Maybe once. In the very clutches of death? Absolutely. Because true love is always personal. It’s incarnational.
*** THREE STEPS TO DO CHRISTMAS RIGHT ***
I believe incarnation wasn’t just the method of salvation or the manifestation of love, but it’s also the model for life. [Three M’s! There’s a sermon outline there, free of charge.] So as hard as it may be, here’s to embodying the true meaning of the season by incarnating Jesus this year with these three steps.
1. Show up. You make the effort. You schedule the date. You send the text. You apologize. You make the trip even though they never do. You get messy. You move!!! Because if you’re living incarnationally, it’s always your move.
2. Be there. When you get there, where ever there is, be there! Be there with your energy, attention, and heart. Don’t think about where you’d rather be, need to be, or where you’re going next, give your presence. Cry with them if they need to be cried with. Laugh with them if they need to be laughed with. Cook with them if they need to be cooked with. Or just sit and watch the game with them if they need it. Be there.
3. Love out. Most importantly, leave no doubt in their mind, even if there’s doubt in yours, that you believe their well being is more important than yours. Astonish them and humor God for just a day by pretending you love them more than I.
Because, about 2,000 years ago, Jesus did. He gave presence (not presents) and it changed the trajectory of history. Now we’re his body, tasked with giving his physical presence to the world, so let’s incarnate. It’s as easy as 1,2,3.
Would love to hear any stories of how you’re doing this below. Merry Christmas.
If you like this post, SHARE it with your people. Or get all Cross-Shaped blogs via-e-mail by using the “FOLLOW” box at the bottom of your screen. Or if you do WordPress, just follow. Or if you don’t like it, ridicule it below.