Some have argued that the supreme miracle of Christianity is not the resurrection of Christ from the dead, but (is actually) the incarnation (Keller, p44).
Now, there’s a “churchy” word that we often throw around at this time of year without defining. We assume that we all “known” the word, but do we?
What is the Incarnation?
Timothy Keller has a few different ways of defining the Incarnation in his book.
Because of the Incarnation, we are given the opportunity to have a real, intimate, and lasting relationship with God in Jesus.
This is very different from what the Jews believe. They believe in a God who was both personal and infinite, who was not a being within the universe, but was instead the catalyst of its existence and transcendent above it (Keller, p42).
In the Old Testament, God appeared as a smoking furnace, a pillar of fire, and as a whirlwind or tornado (Keller, p53). The closest we would get to visibly seeing God was to encounter one of God’s many messengers like both Mary and Joseph did.
Back in Exodus 38, while on Mt Sinai meeting with God, Moses asked to see God’s face, and he was told that if he were to look directly at God, it would kill him. He was told, at best, that he could glimpse God’s back after God had passed him by (Exodus 38:18-23) (Keller, p53).
Yet, numerous centuries later, Jesus Christ – by his life, by his claims, and by his resurrection – convinced his closest Jewish followers that he was not just a prophet telling them how to find God, but was God himself, come to find us (Keller, p42).
If Moses were to walk into our sanctuary today and hear us talking about the Incarnation, and listen to our various scripture readings like these through Advent and Christmas:
I imagine Moses would be stunned! Keller says that he believes, “Moses would cry out, Do you realize what this means?! This is the very thing I was denied! This means that through Jesus you can meet God. You can know God personally and without terror. God can come into your life. Where’s your joy? Where’s your amazement? How can your lives NOT be changed?!” (p54).
I think Moses’ shock would be spot on. I really don’t think we are surprised and amazed with the idea, much less the reality, that God came to us in the form of a human infant, so that we might have a real relationship with God’s self in Jesus. That God willingly became vulnerable and ordinary – he became fully human just like you and me (Keller, p47-48); that God emptied himself of his glory, of his divine prerogatives (Keller, p48); and willingly suffered so that we might be able to better connect with God.
This God – the one who lived like us, who has experienced the darkness, rejection, pain, and suffering we go through, and then some – is a God who truly understands us and we can trust in God’s love and care for us (Keller, p52-53).
What do you think…..
If you answered YES to any of the above questions, then why don’t we live and act more like Jesus taught us?
Maybe, it’s because we can only read about and hear stories about Jesus. We have never experienced Jesus as a living, breathing person. So, it’s hard to really wrap our head around the idea that he is real. We want to believe he is, but…… part of us holds back a bit.
It takes a lot of courage to truly believe in Jesus as a living breathing human being, who is also God come to be with us and save us from ourselves and the troubles of our world.
It takes a lot of courage to not just truly believe, but to live like we believe – as faithful disciples of Christ. I know your thinking – what do you mean it takes courage to let our lives reflect Jesus’ teachings and ministry?
If we have the courage to live as faithful disciples, following Christ’s teachings. Then, we must set aside our “right to self-determination”. We must have the courage to do the things that our culture tells us we shouldn’t – deny ourselves of our own will, and trust in what God is calling us to do. As a disciple of Christ, we must trust that God will guide us in what we should be doing, how we should be acting, and what we should be saying. We must trust that in the end – all will be well, that God will take the good and bad choices we make, the kind, hope-filled, chaotic, and hot mess areas of our world and work them for good. (Keller, p58-59)
Most of all, we must have the courage to admit that we need God – that we cannot in order to be our best selves - to live our lives successfully, happily, and abundantly – we need God’s loving and guiding presence in our lives (Keller, p61).
Where do we get the courage to truly believe and follow Jesus; to know that we can give our entire life over to God and we will be better for it?
We look to Jesus himself. We must pause to consider what it must have taken for him to willingly come to be with us: to become mortal and vulnerable so that he could suffer, be betrayed and killed for us. To remember that on the cross, he felt every human emotion of betrayal, fear, and pain – just as we would. Yet, Jesus/God felt it was all worth it. Jesus chose to go through all of this out of LOVE for you, for me, for every human being past, present and future around the world (Keller, p61).
The true and ultimate gift we receive from God is LOVE – unconditional, unselfish, unstoppable, unimaginable LOVE.
May this year be the one that you truly come to know deep in your heart and soul God’s LOVE for you, and may it bring you hope and peace. May you offer that same love back to God and pass it on to others.
Keller, Timothy, Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ, Chapter 3: The Fathers of Jesus. Viking-Penguin Random House LLC/New York, NY, 2016, p40-62.