We could start with a baby. Like most songs and hymns during this season, we could focus on the little baby Jesus. Gentle, meek, mild, quiet, sleeping, peaceful are only some of the adjectives describing the baby Jesus in music and popular culture. As a father of three I can tell you that the reality of a birth is not found in these adjectives. As a Christian I can tell you that the night was not different because a baby was born.
The night was different because God came into the world in human form. The writer of the gospel according to John says it like this:
“The Word became flesh and made his home among us. We have seen his glory, glory like that of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”
John 1:14 (CEB)
I think it makes a difference that Jesus came in human form. It must make a difference. Jesus taking our form, our lives, says something about this life of ours. It tells us that our embodied world is good and embodied it is meant to be. That the Word became flesh and “made his home” among us means that God left God’s own place, God’s own glory, so we could experience divine life.
God taking our form, our shape, tells the world that this body, this earth, this created order is holy. Serving this God makes a difference for he took our form in Jesus who walked, talked, lived, and struggled to be about his work in the world.
In a recent interview on Krista Tippet on Being, poet & philosopher, John O’Donahue said:
“I think the beauty of being human is that we’re incredibly, intimately near each other.”
God’s coming in Jesus demonstrates that humanity was indeed created in God’s image. Through that image God shows us that we are intimately near the Godhead and that we are also called to be near each other, sharing the divine life. If we are to be God’s own people in the world, the “body of Christ redeemed by his blood” then it is important that we live our lives leaning into the beauty of being human.
God did not bless us from afar but instead came to us where we were, in the messiness of a stable, in the messiness of life. God came among us, struggled with us, suffered what we suffer each day, and told us that this way of living was love. In Jesus, love makes a difference, healing is possible, resurrection can take place.
God came to earth and turned the world upside down so that we would know that the promise of a good created order, the promise of abundant life, was true. Somehow, although we have lost our way, through Jesus, we can find home again, we can find heaven on earth.
This heaven we are called to is not the “sweet by and by,” instead it’s the heaven that Wendell Berry tells us he longs for:
“the Heaven of creatures, of seasons,
of day and night. Heaven enough for me
would be this world as I know it, but redeemed
of our abuse of it and one another. It would be
the Heaven of knowing again.”
– from VI. in Leavings
When we take the incarnation seriously it begins to transform us, prod us, and open our eyes to the ways others are holy, others are sacred, others are like we are, children of God. At times this might rub us the wrong way because it uncovers our own prejudices, our own ways of looking at the world that go against everything that God told us, proclaimed, and made present in Jesus.
I know I am being convicted, I’m being spoken to. I know that my spirit is heavy for those children of God who live hopeless today. For those children of God that don’t seem to catch a break. For those children of God that are so unlike us, yet they are us! For those and for the created order that gives them life I’m thinking that God came into the world for them.
We are living days of transformation. Things are changing, ways of communication are advancing and yet if you sit at a mall, wait in a hospital lobby, or observe people at a red light, one thing has not changed, people have a need for one another. Have you observed it? People buying gifts, making plans with people they have not seen in a while, gathering around tables and sharing stories with family and friends. Then there are those that have little reason to celebrate, no joy to be found, no good news in the horizon. Whatever the reason, they have lost touch with what it means to be human, hope has been lost.
The messiness of life pushes us, prods us, and sometimes breaks us. We as people of God cannot sit back and wait for better things to come “some day” we cannot sit and act like somehow just prayers, wishing better, reading scripture, or gathering on Sunday morning is enough. It is not enough! Somehow we must live this incarnation in our being, in our acting in the world.
We as a church can get caught up in the divisive rhetoric of our day to the point that we can’t begin to answer the call. Instead we can easily take sides, call people names, and ignore the plight of those who need it most. Maybe it’s time for us to leave our comfortable pews, our amazing programs, our certainties, leave the comforts of the heaven we have made, and go out and get messy with those around us.
Why is this night different than all other nights? Because God did just that . . .