I think of all the truths about God that man seeks to wrap his mind around, the Incarnation is the most ineffable. The Incarnation can seem rather incredulous when we consider that the Creator was subjected to being conceived. The idea that the seemingly up there, out there, Infinite One came close enough to be held and felt…seems surreal.
But in the Incarnation, the ethereal truth became truth with a pulse, redefining the unprecedented and the unimaginable. Mary gave birth to God so God could be birthed in us. We can’t wrap our minds around that because our minds are forever in the way.
For the most part, the explanations of the Incarnation by theologians have been about as satisfying as offering a hungry man a toothpick. When it comes to the Incarnation, it seems we’ve opted for a mind that makes sense over a heart that makes love. All the while failing to realize that over-explanation will always rob us of astonishment.
This must be why the apostle Paul employs this definition of the incarnation: “Without any doubt, the mystery of our religion is great: He was revealed in flesh, vindicated in spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among Gentiles, believed in throughout the world, taken up in glory” (1 Timothy 3:16).
In very concise language, the apostle John, the one who leaned upon the breast of the incarnate Son of God and heard His heartbeat, said, “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
Divine becomes flesh. Divine dwells with humanity, revealing all truth. This is Incarnation.
Frederick Buechner says the Incarnation is “un-theological, unsophisticated and is undignified. But according to Christianity, it is the way things are. All religions and philosophies that deny the reality or the significance of the material, the fleshly, the earthbound, are themselves denied.”
For most Christians, Jesus is totally divine but not really human. We have emphasized the “almightiness” of Jesus, making following him seem unrealistic. We have mistakenly thought we are on two utterly different planes. A God who is “totally other” alienates us totally.
It may sound like an oversimplification to say that the purpose of the Incarnation was to express the supreme act of empathy of the Divine with mortals, but I believe that says it best. Empathy is the echo of someone else’s pain.
The Incarnation reveals a God that suffers “with” us and “in” us. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
In Jesus, matter and spirit were presented as totally one. Human and Divine were put together in His ordinary body. That’s the core message of Christianity. It’s the only thing that fully differentiates the Christian religion from other world religions.
We Christians believe that God chose the human, the material, the physical in which to reveal God’s very Self. Two thousand years later, this is still scandalous. It just doesn’t seem “spiritual” enough.
The difficulty in relating fully to the Incarnation is that religion has segregated that which is spiritual and that which is secular. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
The word for “spiritual” in the New Testament is “pneumatikos.” It comes from the root word “pneuma,” a breathing or animating force, animated by the Holy Spirit. It has nothing to do with the material separated from the immaterial. For Paul, every facet of our life should be spiritual.
If we were to ask Jesus about His spiritual life, He would be confused by the question. His reply would probably be, “What do you mean by my spiritual life? You mean my life? All of my life is spiritual.”
To Him, the God He called Father is as close as the skin He was in. To Him, life is an integrated, holistic experience where the sacred and spiritual are all around us. For Jesus, God wants to be involved in every square inch of our lives. Because everything is spiritual. Everything matters to God.
The great storyline of the Incarnation connects our small lives to the One Great Life! The Gospel gives us a sense of belonging and personal participation in it. Through the Incarnation, God in Jesus became flesh; God visibly living in the material world to help us overcome the illusion of separation (John 1:14).
Love by its very nature wants to be one with its beloved, so the gospel of salvation has been declared and realized by an Incarnate God. In this Divine romance of heaven touching earth, we see how deep and committed is God’s love for humanity, that He would become it, behold it and so graciously pull it from death’s grip…this is the beauty of the Incarnation.