Privileged to be among those sharing Advent thoughts in church today, I was so happy to share this little reflection on the incarnation. It is amazing how deep the sensation goes, of standing among one’s community, and speaking a part of the Word. Joy rising like a spark from a night fire …
“What’s your non-negotiable?”
This question came up at a dinner gathering, not so long ago. It was Advent. We were talking about the virgin birth.
Virgin birth? Really?
Among us we wondered afresh what to make of this part of the story … wondered what the notion had meant back in the day, to the Jewish people of the story. Was it necessary as fulfillment of prophecy? Were they maybe trying to out-spin the emperor? After all, the Romans’ worship of Caesar – oddly enough – described him as the Son of God, born of a virgin.
Or, was it as the gospel of Luke put it, an angel whispering in a young woman’s ear, followed by an incomprehensible mystery.
We talked about the possibility that we were all making the story what we needed it to be. What else, we wondered, did we need the Christian stories to be?
One by one we named the planks we wanted to hold onto, in our various houses of faith.
An empty tomb and a bodily resurrection, Jesus sitting at the right hand of God for all time? Or the survival of a small band of faithful followers, telling and retelling the stories of Jesus …
A young woman overshadowed by the very Spirit of God? Or a humanly pregnant unwed teenager, Juno as the mother of Jesus …
A miracle-working God who’s still in the healing business? Or just to feel God nearby, no matter what we are going through …
I confess no one part of the story is a must-have for me, a “non-negotiable,” but there is one plank I do cling to like a spar from a shipwreck in a stormy sea: God incarnate. God with skin on. The God who couldn’t get close enough.
The glory that caused Moses’ face to shine in reflection was not close enough. The voice whispering in Elijah’s ear … not close enough. The lifeforce that quickened the wombs of Sarah, Hannah, and Elizabeth … not close enough.
This wild God who would not be tamed by Job’s questions stooped to enter the tent of humanity, choosing to enter into our own flesh, making common cause with our hurts, our questions, our anger, our not-knowing, our need … our loves.
John does say this, that God pitched tent with us. The Greek of the New Testament reflects the Hebrew of the Old. If I remember right, the word is shakan, and that word also is the source of the Shekhinah referred to in Jewish kabbalah mysticism. The God who dwells within … the God who tabernacles with us, who pitches tent with us.
Anyone who has ever camped in a tent knows how intimate this is. The one who pitches tent with you hears your every laugh, sigh, tear … your every breath.
But God is doing more than promising to be our next-door neighbor for always. The God of incarnate love is choosing to enter into the very messy flesh-and-blood existence that starts inside a woman, in an act that is intimate love – when at its best. The very soul of God enters into and becomes one with human matter, proving for all time that human being matters.
In an act of supreme solidarity, a couple of thousand years before Joan Osborne made Eric Bazilian’s song famous, God became one of us, and in so doing, made all of us part of God: written forever into God’s memories, creating minute-by-minute with God, among God’s beloved.
Because God chose this way of loving humanity, of loving all of us, of loving me, I know how I am called to love. I am called to love as though every body matters, because it does. I am called to love as though we are all children of God, heirs of the promise, because we are. I am called to see God in the smallest and weakest, among those who need me most, because that’s where God is.
Immanuel … God with us. Thanks be to God.