Steve Seamands reports that the St. Petersburg, Florida Times published a paper on Christmas Day that said, “In keeping with the Christmas spirit, only good news will appear on the front page. For a full report on other happenings around the world, see page 3A.” Sure enough, on the front page there was a picture of the Pope, a story of a family helping another family in need, and Santa Claus stretched out on a patio, soaking in Florida sun.
Then the rest of the news: freedom fighters in Cuba in retreat, a stickup in Chicago, the perishing of a family of nine in a fire, civil war in the Congo, and assorted tragedies from around the globe.
Seamands counters that the well-intentioned newspaper editor missed the point of Christmas: “Jesus, the Son of God, wasn’t born into a sentimental, good-news-only fantasy world. He was born into this world, our world, which was evil and dangerous then just as it is now.”
It is scandal enough that God should become human, should be born of a woman in an out of the way place. But that incarnational scandal is deepened, intensified in that God experiences death in the most shameful form as an executed criminal. Thus Christians answered the question, “Who is God?” by pointing to the cross and stating what they had learned about God through Jesus: “God is love.”(1 John 4:8)
“Anyone who has seen me, has seen the Father” (John 14:9) is an astounding thing for someone to say about himself, especially if that person speaks and acts like Jesus. In claiming that when we see him we see God, Jesus becomes the test of all of our statements about God. We thought God was at last stirring to save us from our enemies, entering the capital city to defeat our Roman overlords. Jesus enters the city bouncing in on the back of a donkey, welcomed not by the powers that be but rather by little children shouting, “Hosanna!” In so doing, Jesus rearranges our ideas about God. God is not the distant, obscure, uncaring being we once thought God to be; God is Jesus Christ who has come to us. Incarnation.
This is an excerpt from my book, Incarnation: Embrace of Heaven and Earth (Abingdon Press, 2013). I offer it for your reflections during this season of the Incarnation, Advent.