The Scandal of the Incarnation

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December 25, 2019

It’s Christmas morning. Whew. We made it! It was a late night for us potentially in a lot of ways – gathering to worship and preparing for celebrations. And a late night for those on the scene at the first Christmas: Mary, Joseph, the Shepherds. 

We like them may be a bit tired and fuzzy. 

It’s interesting to ponder what this morning was like for those on the scene in contrast to what it’s like for us and for the writers of the readings we have heard this morning – particularly Hebrews and John. 

We hear in our epistle this morning, written likely at least 60 years after Jesus’ birth: “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son.” 

Speech. Words.  

This echoes the creation narrative of Genesis 1: God created. Over and over we hear from Genesis, “God said,” and our imagination goes to immediacy – poof - water, trees, sunlight, moon, stars, animals, people. God did not think, God did not wave a magic wand, God spoke and created. 

A big deal. A powerful deal. It’s a little hard to grasp in our day. Words unfortunately do not tend to be a big deal now, but in the then and there they carried weight, had authority, conveyed truth, and communicated the power to accomplish what they said.

We’ll come back to words.

Let’s consider those on the scene -

That first Christmas morning must have been a tired one. Mary and Joseph had a newborn. Jesus is God incarnate, become one of us. Incarnation. We hear that language in our gospel reading. Jesus is God incarnate, but that does not mean some definable percentage of human and divine was mappable in his person. Jesus was both, and his humanity was not compromised at all – he had likely already been breastfeeding, filling his diaper, crying and keeping his parents awake in their makeshift “room.” They were tired on this first Christmas morning.

Then there’s the shepherds. They have not slept. They veered off their course as shepherds to help welcome our Savior. I can only imagine they got home too late to maybe angry or worried families and tried to articulate what had happened to their wives and children. And was it even believable to them? Maybe Joe Shepherd said to his wife: The angels came, the sky lit up, we had to look in the dark for the baby promised by God to save us. We found him and encouraged Joseph and Mary, an unwed couple in a stable, and then we came home. I’m sure they ran over this more than once and they probably just wanted to eat something and get some sleep. 

I imagine, in part they all were thinking: what is going on? How is this the answer to the promise? What does this mean? Such questions must have been amplified in their hearts on this first Christmas morning. 

As we ponder this today, our Christmas morning, we are nudged in the direction of the scandal of it all. 

We see from both Hebrews and John’s gospel, written 60-80 years after Jesus’ birth, they were still working it out. John, his writing of this gospel has had many years to ponder. Into this he hangs the opening words of his gospel on “Word:” “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” 

We’re back to words…speech, revelation, proclamation. A showing, a revealing, that is what words are supposed to do. That is what Jesus did. 

Makes sense kind of sort of. 

What we see is the need to sit with the mystery. God has made God known through Christ. John writes: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” 

If Jesus is the Word and was present at creation and at Incarnation Jesus is in human flesh God - In part the profound simplicity that is magnified over time from creation to incarnation is God is present and God is active. Present. God loves us, is with us. 

John also writes, “And we saw his glory.” That is communicating seeing all that was invisible. That had never been seen, was not possible to see. All that is majestic, honorable, beautiful, moral…all of God, make known to us in Christ as a baby. Think of seeing something you never see, never imagined being able to see. Something you probably would not understand if you saw it. And suddenly, it comes, and it is shockingly other than you expected it. For example, let’s say we saw with our naked eye an atom. A single atom. That would be shocking. But what if it was – and bear with me on this illustration -  tiny but looked like a teeny tiny Mickey Mouse. That would be shocking and disorienting. That’s what Christmas morning must have been. Jesus. Jesus is God. God is a baby. Well that’s scandalous and bewildering.

This was shocking to them, and to us as we consider, really consider that our invisible God wanted us to know God and understand God so much that God came as God in the person of Jesus, and today in our calendar as the baby Jesus. For real. 

This is scandalous. Like an atom that looks like a Mickey Mouse. Shocking. 

Jesus is a baby and is vulnerably with us. God made God’s self vulnerable to come to us. God loves us that much. 

How did they embrace the shock of the incarnation? For them there and for our New Testament writers decades later, it brings us back to words. Words help reveal things, help understand things when used meaningfully. We need talk to one another, meaningfully about this. We need sit in silence with the mystery. John had been sitting with this and talking about this for over half a century before penning this opening chapter we have. 

But why should we interact with this, the scandal of it? What difference does it make? 

When we seek to embrace the shock of baby Jesus, we begin to encounter the reality of God’s love to humble God’s self as God did to come to us as a baby. We begin to realize the magnitude of the love that took, and the real tangible way God wants to do whatever God can to show love and presence. 

When we start to catch that glimpse, in the midst grief, crisis, challenge – which most of us face in varieties of flavors daily. We are rooted in Truth. God is with us. God will do anything for us. We will never get lost. God will never leave us. Though death may separate us, and stress of crisis may bear down, we will all be together forever with God for all of eternity because Jesus came. 

Thank God for baby Jesus.