This season I am blogging through Advent in a series called “Resurrecting Christmas”. I hope to find something new and fresh in the midst of this season. I hope you join me.
Only Matthew and Luke give us narratives of the birth of Christ. Mark, being the briefest, fast-paced gospel, doesn’t bother with it.
The Gospel of John gives us a theological exposition of the significance of Incarnation. Over the first chapter, he makes this poetic case that the “Word” of God, known in the Old Testament by other names like Wisdom, was with God in the beginning and has now come to dwell on earth. The crux of this chapter comes in verse 14: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”
This is what Incarnation means. It’s what Emmanuel means. That God became flesh.
To deal with this would take, and has taken, volumes upon volumes of exposition. This is heavy stuff not to glossed over. In fact, I’m convinced the Incarnation causes us to question a lot of our theology about “flesh” and sin and eschatology.
But those are for another day, and a better theologian. I simply want to frame this as a reminder. A reminder to myself first, and to my friends who are seminary/theology students, pastors, theologians, leaders, etc. The reminder is that Incarnation is a pattern of life, not just an event.
A reminder of Christmas is that God became flesh. Flesh you could see, touch, hear. God on earth was a teacher, a healer, a dining guest, a worker.
One of the easiest traps for me to fall into, and I’m sure it is this way for others, is to treat “theology” as solely an intellectual enterprise. There’s so much to read and listen to and study and exegete and translate and analyze and homilize. And these are noble tasks, that pastors and theologians are uniquely called to do.
But it’s easy to forget that the word “theology” simply means “words about God”.
And the Word of God became flesh.
If our “words about God” never become flesh, then they truly can have nothing to do with the God we are after.
In undergrad and seminary, most of the conversations among theology students are ones of frustration with the state of the church, the problems and issues we face as pastors trying to communicate what we’ve learned, and an overall exhaustion over what the practical “work” of theology. We become disenfranchised and stop attending church; reading theology books and attending classes as if that is the same thing. And while it can be meaningful to experience God in those ways, we lose touch with the body we were called to minister to in the first place.
In a broader sense, a lot of Christianity is talk. Assent to doctrine, “standing up for your beliefs”, checking the right box, or saying the right prayers.
But these words were never meant to be empty. They are infused with power, power to become Incarnate in flesh, in actions, and in this world!
This Christmas let’s remember, pastors or not, that our words about God mean nothing if they do not become the deeply personal, physical work of ministry to the world that God inhabited in flesh.
I leave you with a couple quotes from smarter men than me.
“Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
“I’m going to stop complaining about the church I’ve experienced and start becoming the church I dream of.” – St. Francis