I have said before that I am an “Incarnational Christian.” What I mean by this is that much of my theology is based on the understanding that our God took upon himself a human form…lowered himself…and came to earth…messy, mixed up, dirty, confused earth. And, doing so, God gives us a model of discipleship. It’s one of lowering ourselves for others. It’s one of entering into the suffering places of humans. It’s a faith that must be lived out…not just talked about or theorized or preached.
I find great Scriptural support in verses such as the following:
The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish. (John 1:14 — The Message)
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8 — NRSV)
Our God enters into the midst of the mess of life. Our God comes to where we are..in Christ. Cool, huh?
So often at Christmastime, we hold onto that blessed Christmas morning as if it’s the perfect Hallmark Card moment in time and space. We long for that “Silent Night, Holy Night” when “All is Calm, All is bright” and all is right with the world. There’s nothing but peace and love and happiness and sugarplum fairies and so on and so forth. It is, after all, “the most wonderful time of year.” Our songs tell us this, it must be true.
And we can bust our collective tails trying to ensure that we have the perfect Christmas experience…the house all clean, fancy Christmas cookies made and handed out the neighbors, Bing Crosby on the stereo, and gifts sent out months in advance.
However (and this is not be a Grinch) the birth of Christ isn’t like this.
Our God doesn’t come and enter into the perfect world at the perfect place and come to all the perfect people of the world. No, he comes in the midst of the mess. And that is “good news of great joy” to me and my household. We’re a long way from the idyllic Christmas card moment. Our house is cluttered. Our lives are busy. We’ve been fighting sickness for a couple of weeks. We’re way behind on all of the planning that needs to take place. So, along with the heavenly choirs, we rejoice, that God comes to our mess…that he is incarnate here. That is good news…very good news.
Twenty some odd years ago I read a sermon by Edward Steimle, a Lutheran; a Christmas sermon. It was part of a packet of sermons we were required to read and reflect on for preaching class at Duke Divinity School. And, this time of year when life seems so far from that Hallmark card, picture-perfect Christmas that we’re supposed to attain, I can’t help but think back to that sermon. It was called “The Eye of the Storm.”
The eye of the storm is the place of relative calm that exists in the center of rotating weather system. I remember hearing stories of hurricanes, fierce winds, crashing into the Florida coastline as a storm makes landfall. Waves beat against the shore. Debris flies through the air. Houses are damaged. Every news channel sends out some sacrificial lamb to report on the storm while getting blown about. But then, in the middle of the storm, the wind dies down. There is a relative calm. I’ve heard of blue sky even appearing and birds start some tentative singing. Everyone can catch their breath. But this “eye” passes and soon the winds start to howl and the sky goes dark again as the storm rages. The “eye” was nice while it lasted, but it didn’t last long.
We may be reaching and stretching and failing to grasp that perfect Christmas spirit in our own lives. But we need to remember that it wasn’t all that perfect for Jesus either. It was just the eye of the storm…that birth in the manger.
Think of that mess, the storms, before the birth of Christ. The Old Testament starts off with a bang at the Garden when the apple is eaten. Babel. Pillars of salt. Prophets crying out for Israel to repent. Exile. And a prophet eventually shouting out in the wilderness to “Prepare the way of the Lord.” And then, closer to the birth of Christ, there’s a demand for a census and Joseph had to load up his very pregnant wife and head up to the City of David; Bethlehem. There’s no room at the inn. It’s a mess. Very few Hallmark Card moments here.
When the dirty shepherds come on over and peek into where the newborn child is and we have our priceless pageant scene, we can’t ignore the whirlwind of activity that got us to this point.
We catch our breaths here.
After that moment the storms come up again. Children are massacred by Herod as, at the outset, the world tries to deal with this newborn king. He gets older. Opposition grows. And we know where it heads. He’ll be accused and convicted and this little baby that we are so looking forward to at this point will be put to death on the wonderfully named Good Friday.
But this, my friends, is the beauty of the incarnation. It’s God entering in the midst of the mess of the world. And just as God did that when Christ came into the world so many years ago, it’s how God enters the world today.
God comes into our brokenness.
God comes into our unfinished business.
God comes into our off-key singing.God comes into our good intentions.
God comes into whatever storms we may have in our lives.
God comes into our mess.
And as followers of Christ, we are to follow. We enter in the midst of the mess of others. We practice the incarnation in our own lives.