THE INCARNATION: The Word Became Flesh
We do not want to focus on experience. We want to focus on God and on the way he chooses to appear. If we long to see his face, we must look more carefully at the way he shows his face.1
The most staggering, almost unbelievable, claim of Christianity is that of the Incarnation: God revealing Himself by becoming man in Jesus of Nazareth, although born of a virgin in a stable. My atheist neighbor told me that it was the height of arrogance to think that could have happened. Hindus have the opposite problem: their incarnations, gods, all over the place, millions of them, some more “godly” and worshipful and famous than others, of course. But these are never localized in a real flesh-and-blood person, born in a certain place, eating and drinking, praying, getting upset, even crying, teaching and doing miracles, dying and rising, and having time itself named for Him—it’s now 2018 A.D., anno domine, year of Our Lord (or C.E., “Christian Era”).
Phillip Yancey2 writes, The book of Hebrews makes explicit this mystery of incarnation: “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Second Corinthians 5 goes even further: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us.”
The world-famous poet Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote “De Profundis” to commemorate the birth of his son, but the words apply to the Nativity as well.3
Out of the deep, my child, out of the deep,
From that great deep before our world begins,
Whereupon the spirit of God moves as He will—
Out of the deep, my child, out of the deep,
From that true world within the world we see,
Whereof our world is but the bounding shore—
Out of the deep—thou comest, darling boy!
1. Tim Stafford, Knowing the Face of God, p. 173. 2. Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace?, pp. 106,7
3. Cynthia P. Maus, Christ and the Fine Arts, p. 33.
And The Word Became Flesh and Dwelt Among Us, full of grace and truth. John 1:14
When he came to earth
the world seemed like those walkers to Emmaus1,
harassed, discouraged, perplexed,
wondering where he had gone
of if he had really come. . .
Until their eyes were opened,
and they walked with,
talked and dined with,
Even so he came among us,
learning carpentry and manhood and Torah,
doing his teaching and healing and commanding,
walking on water, calming storms and
bearing our sins, death and perplexities;
turning the rancid water of our rebellion
into the sweet wine of reconciliation and peace.
Now we have a billion words about him, but have we him?
If we could just keep him here where we are,
we’d be safe and secure from all alarms:
no more letting him go away, we say,
and no more stepping out of boats on stormy seas—
one strange adventurer out there is quite enough, thank you.
We want him to be like a friend who’s there when we call,
even though he’s busy with a thousand things.
And so we use pictures of him—ordinary portraits
of Peter, Paul and Mary, and Homer, Abdul and Bill.
And we gaze on them, icons of grace, reminders of glory,
but He gazes back, and we pray, and are still.
And in our stillness we remember the Word, the Word that reaches out
from manger scene and Holy Writ and worship team
and praising choir and preacher man, and pimply youth and lonely single mom,
and boys whose dads have gone away
and neighbors sick, imprisoned or alone….2
and says, “Respond, and follow me.
For all of these I love, and need you to love, too;
and through all of these I love you;
go ahead and try to count the ways.” –HPK 1. Luke 24 2. Matt. 25:31-45
“Being Therefore Surrounded By a Cloud of Witnesses.” Heb.12: 1
1. The Angels
Heralds of undying love and peace and joy, singers of eternal life born with that Boy,
waft your choruses of Bethlehem o’er here; dance down through our haze
of sinful sloth and doubt and fear,
and free us up to leap and sing and praise.
What did you build or carve, you sturdy carpenter,
a bed, a fishing boat, a sign: “Angels Welcome Here”?
What did you leave behind, you patient woodworker,
some tables and a chair, a house or two each year?
Engaged to a maid made pregnant by the Spirit, what you left
was a legacy of listening to God.* You learned what you should
to step-father-forth the little holy stranger. Strong and deft,
you taught him how to nail, him who would be nailed to wood.
*See Matt. 1: 20-24
3. The Blessed Mother
What did you feel back then, bringing forth and holding
Him through whom all worlds were birthed and held?
He called you to be Mother long before He came to earth,
but what did he call you and Joseph, growing up,
and did that growing up and leaving leave you sad?
His words must have seared your soul:
“Don’t you know I must be about my Father’s business?”
(when he seemed too young to be teaching,
yet was too ancient to be taught by you.)
“Dear woman, why do you involve me?”
(before turning water into wedding wine.)
“Woman, behold your son;”
(as, dying, he set forth another for your mothering—
the one who’d also care for you: you heard and saw it all.)
What did you feel back then, bringing forth and giving up
Him through whom the world was reborn and held, by God?
Ever since that birth, all people have blessed you,
some with “Mother of God.”
Oh Mary, did you know you’d bless all motherhood, and make it glad?
What was it like to hold Him in your arms? What did you think as He looked at you?
The joy you felt let you depart in peace.
Are there holy moments for all us aged, too?
Simeon, old man, your simple faith teaches us to wait in patience: salvation will come.
So you have a word for all lonely old folk, and for all tired, empty souls:
“Watch and wait, for no good thing will He withhold from
him who walks uprightly. Watch and wait and worship.
You have much to do—Listen to the Spirit’s voice,
and let him lead you to the holiness
of watching or holding or praying for a child.
Maybe not the “Word made flesh,”
but holy nonetheless. Pray,
and meaningful moments—
flashes of eternity in the
eyes of a little one—
will come.” –HPK
Merry—and meaningful— Christmas, Everyone! –HPK