We declare to you what was from the beginning, that we have heard, what we’ve seen with their eyes, what we have looked at in touched with our hands, concerning the word of life – this life was revealed, and we’ve seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the father and was revealed to us – we declare to you what we’ve seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the father and with his son Jesus Christ.” (First John 1:1 – 3)
Martin Luther (in his Larger Catechism, 1529) said he felt sad for those who follow faiths other than Christianity. Even though they might worship the one, true God, they had no way of knowing God’s attitude toward them. “They cannot be confident of his love and blessing,…” because they do not know God Incarnate. The Incarnation not only tells us who God is but also God’s intentions for us.
I asked a distinguished new church planter what virtue he most admired in a potential new church planter.
“A robust theology of the Incarnation,” he replied. “Only someone who believes that God is relentlessly reaching out to save the world has the drive to birth a new church.”
God With Us is experienced as God For Us. It’s a huge, complex thought to think that God became fully human and yet remained fully divine. Philip Yancey recalls J. B. Phillips’ delightful story about the Incarnation:
A senior angel is showing a very young angel around the splendors of the universe. They view whirling galaxies and blazing suns, and then flit across the infinite distances of space until at last they enter one particular galaxy of 500 billion stars: As the two of them draw near the star which we call our sun and to its circling planets, the senior angel pointed to a small and rather insignificant sphere turning very slowly on its axis. It looked as dull as a dirty tennis-ball to the little angel, whose mind was filled with the size and glory of what he had seen.
“I want you to watch that one particularly,” said the senior angel, pointing with his finger.
“Well, it looks very small and rather dirty to me,” said the little angel. “What’s special about that one?”
He listened in stunned belief as the senior angel told him that this planet, small and insignificant and not overly clean, was the renowned Visited Planet:
“Do you mean that our great and glorious Prince… went down in Person to this fifth-rate little ball? Why should He do a thing like that?”
The little angel’s face wrinkled in disgust. “Do you mean to tell me,” he said, “that He stooped so low as to become one of these creeping, crawling creatures of that floating ball?”
“I do, and I don’t think He would like you to call them ‘creeping, crawling creatures’ in that tone of voice. For, strange as it may seem to us, He loves them. He went down to visit them to lift them up to become like Him.”
The little angel looked blank. Such a thought was beyond his comprehension.
That which is beyond our comprehension has made itself available to us in a form that is not beyond our experience. God is with us not only to reveal God to us but to be God for us.
I asked a pastor, who visits the state prison every single week to conduct Bible study for the inmates, why he felt called to prison ministry.
“I’ve not been given a great deal of faith,” he admitted. “Belief in Christ does not come naturally to me. So I have to go where Jesus is. I have to be sure that I stay close to Jesus. I feel so much closer to our Lord, and find his presence so much more believable in prison than at church.”
What a curious statement of faith – unless the Incarnation is true.
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.