By Doyle Sager
Not very many weeks ago, many of us sang the words of Charles Wesley’s familiar Christmas carol, “Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see, Hail the incarnate deity ….” We likely also heard the powerful witness of John’s Gospel, “… and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us ….” But the Incarnation (God becoming flesh) is not merely a Christmas sentimentality. It is at the core of the Christian story. The Incarnation is not some warm holiday thought we can pack up and put away with the wreath and candles until next year. It is a truth for every day of the year.
Truth be told, we may be more closet Gnostics than we wish to admit. Gnosticism was a heresy which circulated in the early Christian era, claiming that all matter (flesh) is evil and only spirit is good. But when Christ took on human flesh, God was announcing, “Flesh is not bad; it is God’s.” Evidently, the early church wrestled with this truth. Listen to the Apostle John: “There are a lot of smooth-talking charlatans loose in the world who refuse to believe that Jesus Christ was truly human, a flesh-and-blood human being. Give them their true title: Deceiver! Antichrist!” (In 2 John 7-8, The Message). Yes, the Incarnation of Christ matters every day of the year. This God-come-in-the-flesh truth is like a thread which ties together our entire faith. On this day when we celebrate Epiphany (the coming of the Light), here are six reasons to stay focused on the Incarnation all year long.
1. The entire human experience is sacred. If God has come to be what we are, then life must matter, and the most mundane tasks are touched with God’s breath. Every facet of our ordinary days is tinged with dignity. The Incarnation announces that God joins us in the mystery of what it means to be human.
2. This world matters. Without clarity around the doctrine of the Incarnation, we might be left to believe that the only life that matters is the next one. But Jesus came here, to this world. It matters. He taught us to pray for God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven. Furthermore, because Jesus came here, there are no excuses for neglecting the poor and hungry, and no excuses for despoiling the earth. Among other things, the Incarnation reclaims earth and flesh as God’s.
3. Suffering is hallowed and bearable. As we struggle with pain, Jesus’ experience of suffering in-the-flesh provides us with a caring priest. The captain of our salvation was made complete through what he suffered (Heb. 2:10) and he is forever our faithful high priest who has been touched by everything we will ever experience (Heb. 4:15-16). Are you homeless? So was he. Have you ever been mistreated and misunderstood? Ditto. Have you ever experienced tragedy and wondered why? Jesus has been there. More than any politician, Christ has earned the right to announce, “I feel your pain.”
4. Humility is not easy, but it is doable. The Incarnation is our model. Jesus forfeited privileges in order to take on servanthood, humiliation and death. When we proudly insist on our entitlements, especially for the purpose of dominating others, we betray the gospel (Phil. 2:5-11).
5. We have a flesh-and-blood model for financial giving. In the midst of Paul’s lesson on Christian stewardship, he breaks out in a mini-doxology: “For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).
6. The Church has a template for her mission. Missiologists often cite the Incarnation as the ultimate example of cultural contextualization. That is, Jesus was the proto-missionary. He spoke our language, learned our ways and honored our customs. He served others instead of dominating them. He adjusted to our culture without ever compromising the message. The missional church has been learning from him ever since. Discipleship is not about keeping people busy inside the church building all week long; it is about getting them back out into the world, to be the presence of Christ. We got that from him!
Our king has visited this global village called Earth. He has declared that this world is loved and worth saving. This coming year, stay focused on Emmanuel, God With Us. And watch carefully. The truth that God has become flesh will prove important each day of your life.