incarnationJanuary 2, 2010
At church on Christmas morning I was asked to take part in the following Sunday’s service, by choosing a carol or reading and talking about what it means to me. I would have loved to say no! But it was a moment to be obedient, so I said yes. I thought about choosing ‘Cradled in a Manger Meanly‘ because I love the words and the tune, and you only get to sing it if you spend Christmas in a Methodist church.
But in the end I chose the beginning of John’s gospel, wanting to express something of what incarnation means to me; and we read it from the New Living Translation, which translates verse 14 as “So the Word became human”. And this is what I said.
The stuff of my life is material, physical, visual. I love colour, pattern, light, and texture, the feel of wool, silk and velvet; dancing reflections; the warmth of skin. I want to touch everything. And I love words with all their meanings and their ambiguities. I’m constantly amazed by the imagination expressed in this complex, delightful world that Jesus created for us to live in. Genesis says he looked over all that he had made and saw that it was excellent in every way. All this variety and beauty springing from the mind of God and spoken out in his eternal Word Jesus Christ. His love and creativity embodied in earth and water and teeming life, in language and symbolism and poetry, in sights and sounds. Oh taste and see that the Lord is good.
But we messed it up, and God could have abandoned us, yet instead he did this incredible thing – he actually became human and lived here on earth among us. The word ‘human’ shares its roots with ‘humble’ – Jesus showing us the way to strip away our pride and self protection, and step into the lowest place, to live in the dark with messiness and contradiction, so that light can shine there.
As I like thinking about the way words grow and the links between them – I looked up ‘human’ in the dictionary and found it’s also related to humus – earth, ground. Jesus didn’t just come to be with us, or to be like us – though that would have been awesome enough – he came to be one of us, formed from the same stuff of earth and dust of stars as we are. He’s born vulnerable and has to trust his family to nurture him to adulthood. He eats and walks and sleeps and he touches people. He’s a craftsman, shaping wood. He notices birds and flowers and rocks. He cries. He shares our physicality, experiences our boundaries, our separateness – even, in the end, he shares our estrangement from his Father.
Paradoxically, by laying aside his glory he made it possible for the people with whom he lived to see that glory with their own eyes, to touch it with their own hands, and to share it with us through the witness of their words – the glory of the only Son of the Father, the light streaming into our darkness, the light that is for everyone – for me, and for you.
John 1:1-18; Genesis 1:31; Psalm 34:8; Mark 15:34; 1 John 1:1.
New Living Translation (1996 edition)