So, this week I’m going to be reflecting on the incarnation–the-God-coming-to-earth, God-with-us part of Christmas. But before I get poetic about baby Jesus’ cute fingers, and how amazing it is that God himself would condescend to dwell with us, I’m going to say what it’s not. The incarnation is not just about God experiencing burps and sleepiness. It’s about God becoming human so that he could die (and rise) so that he could put death to death once and for all. Because if Jesus came and lived among us, but he’s just an inspiration for rich white kids to go move into squatter camps and “be one” with “the people”, or for rich people to gentrify blocks of the inner city, or for missionaries to learn new cultures– then it’s not enough. The world is too dark, too broken, to hugely broken beyond any hope of fixing for that version of the incarnation.
We do need a Jesus who understands us. We need a Jesus who sets us the example of selfless service. We need a Jesus who reminds us that the created world is good. These things are true. But we also need a Jesus to do for us what we could never do for ourselves: to live a perfect life, to die a death in our place, and to thereby put death to death. We don’t need a Jesus who just sits with us in our pain, we need a Jesus who fixes things, who makes a way to end all pain.
It is comforting to know that Jesus is with me when the world is dark. But it is much more comforting to know that one day the darkness will completely vanish in the blazing light of his presence.
One of those big complaints people have against God is: if God is good, why is there suffering? There’s two ways to answer this– one is to say that humans have free will, this is a fallen world, and as a result there is suffering, but it is logically sound to still believe in God anyway. The other response is to say something about how Jesus suffered, too, and he understands us and is with us in our suffering. But let’s not forget to also say: Jesus didn’t suffer needlessly. He suffered to end all suffering once and for all.
Without that perspective, you end up with poems like this one:
Sometimes I want to break up with You.
Not like, get divorced or anything
I’m not having an affair with atheism or anything,
Just like… I need some space.
I get sick and tired of apologizing for you
sorry about your dead puppy isn’t too bad,
sorry about that whole half a country dying in pools of their own blood and vomit thing,
sorry about little girls being raped,
sorry about being born in that country in the middle east that doesn’t exist anymore.
(Whoopsie). Those apologies don’t quite cut it. I think I’m becoming codependent.
You could blame me for this mess,
You always try to
but let’s be honest—I couldn’t stop Ebola, and you could.
You’ve got the power buddy, don’t blame this on me,
Great power, great responsibility and all that jazz
if you’ve got the power you better use it.
Or let’s all just drink red Koolaid and sit on clouds with harps
because it pretty much sucks down here.
And so what if You came down here
to sit and suffer and muck through our muck
to get lice, and have friends die, and see children crippled and starving?
Great. You know what it’s like.
Oh, you’re going to hold my hand in this now, too, huh?
That’s sweet. Move on over you guys,
let’s all sit in this muck together
and sing some Kumbaya.
Except that crap is still crap no matter who is sitting in it with you.
But thankfully Jesus didn’t come just to sit in the muck with us. He came to change the whole system from the inside out, to make us new creations, to start the restoration of all things. One of my favorite verses about the incarnation is Hebrews 2; 14-15.
Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.
(I’m away at teens camp this week, but I’ll still try to do my “daily” advent reflection via email. If anyone new is interested, shoot me an email at steph.ebert17(at)gmail(dot)com to get on the list!)