“Speak Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:10).
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.
All things came into being through him, and without him
not one thing came into being…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.
John 1:1-3a, 14
When I was a boy I hoped that someday I would understand Christmas. It wasn’t that I believed in Santa Claus, reindeer on our roof, or sugar plum fairies. I believed in something more unbelievable, more preposterous. I believed the God of heaven and earth made Himself a little child like me: that I did not understand. Like the words of Charles Wesley’s hymn, I did believe, “Our God contracted to a span; Incomprehensibly made man.” (“Let Earth and Heaven Combine”) But, I could not make sense of that.
Then I became a man, put away childish things, read the theologians and the Scriptures in the original languages. And still Christmas made no sense. It is not reasonable that God throws in His lot with His rebellious creatures, that “God’s onely Son doth hug Humanity into his very person.” (Edward Taylor, “My Blood is Drinke Indeed“) I have lived my “three score and ten” and feel Zophar’s humbling reproof of Job: “Can you find out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limit of the Almighty? It is higher than heaven — what can you do? Deeper than Sheol — what can you know?” (Job 11:7-8). What can I know? Can I find out the deep things of God and of Christmas?
The first readers of John’s Gospel surely balked in reading that the Word who was God and was with God “became flesh and lived among us.” It would have been one thing for John to say that the Son of God became human, but he bluntly says that God became “flesh”. The Scriptures grieve the frailty and weakness of our flesh, “For ‘All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass‘” (1 Peter 1:24a quoting Isaiah 40:6).
“Flesh, biblically speaking, is a loaded word. When the Bible speaks of humanity in darkness, in rebellion and corruption and perversion, it uses the word flesh.” (C. Baxter Kruger, The Great Dance: The Christian Vision Revisited)
Flesh underscores the “weakness” and “vulnerability” of our human condition. (Raymond Brown, The Death of the Messiah, Vol. 1)
The incomprehensible good news of the Gospel is that the Son of God came “in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin” (Romans 8:3). “‘Twas much that we were made like God, long before, but that God should be made like us – much more.” (John Donne, “Holy Sonnets“) The divine became flesh. The infinite became finite. He who was without beginning entered our temporal and spatial bounds. “That God Almighty should become so little, poor and helpless, all for our sake, while remaining who he eternally is as God, was an act of indescribable majesty and power beyond anything that unaided human reason could grasp.” (Thomas Torrance, The Trinitarian Faith)
It may well be that we are so eager to announce to the world that Jesus is fully God, that we forget He is flesh like us. From that wondrous moment when Jesus was conceived in the Virgin’s womb by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35), He would never stop being fully human and fully God. Today there sits at the right hand of God someone who became like us so that He might act for us. Are we so familiar with the Christmas story that we are no longer staggered by it?
Famed American novelist Frederick Buechner reels at the thought of God becoming flesh:
“If you do not hear in the message of Christmas something that must strike some as blasphemy and others as sheer fantasy, the chances are you have not heard the message for what it is… The one who inhabits eternity comes to dwell in time. The One whom none can look upon and live is delivered in a stable under the soft gaze of cattle. The Father of all mercies puts himself at our mercy.” (Frederick Buechner, A Room to Remember: Uncollected Pieces)
I still cannot fully understand what I believe about Christmas any more than when I was a little child. It is wondrous mystery in which I rejoice. We see through a glass, darkly. “Lo, within a manger lies/ He who built the starry skies.” (Edward Caswell, “See Amid the Winter’s Snow“)
- Have I become so familiar with the Christmas story that I am no longer
staggered by the mystery? If so, how?
- What do I want to say to God about so loving me that He took on my “flesh”?
PALMS DOWN/PALMS UP
For a moment hold your PALMS DOWN in a symbolic gesture of letting go to God your worries for the day, the busyness of the season, and expectations of the way the holidays ought to be. Release all of these concerns to God.
Next, hold your PALMS UP as a symbolic gesture of receiving God’s gifts, provision, and guidance for today.