Incarnation

The accessible God

by Steve Brock on December 29, 2012

Baby Jesus in my hand. I borrowed this Baby Jesus from a Nativity scene we picked up in France. He’s not to scale here, but then, neither are we…

Though it occurred only a few days ago, Christmas seems as distant as the horizon, vaguely visible but out of reach. I have passed by and through another Christmas. Though holiday décor still abounds, most of the spirit of Christmas has gone the way of holiday music on the radio.

Christmas fades so quickly, at least to me, because it seems so overly familiar. Or at least it did until this year.

This Christmas, I found within one of the most familiar parts of the Christmas story something that has both mystified and awed me: Jesus came into this world as a baby.

I know. Big revelation, as if I haven’t seen thousands of Nativity scenes, Christmas plays, cards and every other form of Christmas regalia picturing a cute, chubby infant in a straw-filled manger.

I get that Jesus came to us in the ordinary way of birth and crying and needing his mommy just like every one of us. What has grabbed me this year, however, is just what that means.

When I was a kid, we sang about how “He’s got the whole world (pronounced as a two-syllable word no less) in his hands…” That’s the way grown ups seemed to want us to picture God: Big and awesome and capable of holding this world and all others in the universe in his hands. But then along comes Jesus and suddenly, everything is all turned upside down.

The One who holds the universe is now held in the hands of a young mother, a carpenter, some shepherds, Simeon, Anna and likely many others. God has not only made himself small enough to hold, but he’s made himself vulnerable to the point where he would die without the care of others.

Why?

Because in that vulnerability, he becomes accessible to us. I can’t fully imagine a God who holds galaxies. But I can relate to a child, much like ones I have held in my own arms. God loves us so much that he takes the form of a tiny baby just so we could know what it means to hold him that close.

The day after Christmas, I read a Christmas letter from the wife of an old college buddy of mine I haven’t seen for several years. She wrote to inform us that my friend had recently passed away after losing a long battle with cancer. As I read her words, as everything inside me started to tear apart, I found myself doing what I have learned over time to do in such situations: I lifted up my friend’s family to God and in my own pain, I turned and, like the hold hymn noted, I rested in the loving arms of Jesus.

I rested in his arms.

And yet, two thousand years ago, he rested in the arms of people just like you and me. I don’t understand it, but somehow, I sense that these are not separate ideas.

All I know for sure this Christmas is that I cannot think of that child in the manger in the same way. There is more mystery and wonder than I can explain, but I realize at least this much:

There’s a lot more about Christmas to hold onto than I ever imagined.

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A not so silent night

by Steve Brock on December 21, 2012

On a trip last week, I attended a special Andrew Peterson Christmas concert. I was struck by a line that opens his song, “Labor of Love:”

“It was not a silent night.”

Each year we sing of a silent night, a holy night. Holy, yes. But silent?

My limited experience with childbirth alone would indicate otherwise: think of the gasps, breaths and cries of the mother followed by the wails of the newborn child. Add to that the sounds of animals who do not move and bleat and chew cud noiselessly. And then there’s that “multitude of the heavenly host praising God.” Not a duet or a small chorus. A multitude.

Silent night?

I think what appeals to me about the song, “Silent Night” is that it paints a picture of what I’d like Christmas to be like: quiet, holy, peaceful and filled with beauty and contentment. But that’s not what Christmas looks like most years for me, especially this year.

For some reason this year, many of my clients have wanted to get projects either wrapped up or started before Christmas. This has meant a number of trips crammed into the holiday season. Travel has worn me and created a longing for a place of silence, of holiness, of peace.

I’ve found small pockets of that. Or correction: I’ve made a point to carve out these quiet moments for they do not come to me on their own. I need the still, silent moments to reflect on the deeper meaning of that child in the manager or else he becomes just another holiday symbol not all that much different than Santa or Rudolph, as bad as that sounds. I have to find the silent moments or I get lost and Christmas gets lost to me.

But amidst all the travel comes this reminder: It was not a silent night. Jesus did not come into a perfect world. He arrived smack dab in the dirt and smells of a manger, of parents on a trip with no hotel and of a land under oppression. He came into a very noisy and messy place.

A world very much like my own.

And in that realization of a not-so-silent night comes the true blessing of this season. God meets us in the ordinariness of our lives. He is found in the hustle and bustle of the holidays, the stresses of the season and the busyness of the everyday.

I still need to seek out that stillness. But I also am starting to realize that Jesus came into a world that isn’t so silent and still. The shepherds found him in the midst of their world. And if I pay attention amidst all the craziness around me, I can do the same.

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You had to be there – Part 2

by Steve Brock on December 29, 2011

 Last time we looked at how hard it is to describe meaningful experiences to others. You end up reducing an incredible trip or event down to the phrase, “You had to be there.”

This time, I want to look at one of the deeper – as in really deep, so be forewarned – meanings behind that same phrase. It’s a meaning sparked by the event we just celebrated a few days ago (but that already seems like months ago): Christmas. At the heart of Christmas is that fancy theological term we tend to hear, if ever, only during this season – the Incarnation.

"You had to be there" takes on a whole new meaning with the Incarnation

It’s a term meaning that God came down in human form as that baby in the manger. Yet within this astonishing event we can detect traces of the phrase, “You had to be there.”

God determined that he had to be here, to come down and dwell among us. God, mind you. The omnipotent Creator of everything came to be here with us as Emmanuel. He did so for reasons of atonement as our sacrifice and savior, but also for reasons of identification.

Jesus walked this earth so that he could better identify with us and for us to identify with him. The former should give us just a hint as to how vital it is to engage with people and places experientially if God himself did it. The latter, his coming so we could better relate to him is quite frankly, pure grace. But it is also a good reminder for us as well when we travel.

Our travel too is incarnational. We bear our spiritual selves with our physical bodies. We go to new places thinking we’ll learn about the locals. But just as Jesus made it possible for us to relate to him, we do the same with those we meet. Each encounter is an opportunity for a mutual exchange. Of ideas, of cultures, of ourselves and even of Christ.

Travel is incarnational not only because we bring our own spirits to a scene, but because for the Christian we also bear within us the Spirit of the living God. If TSA ever figures out what a powerful package we’re lugging around inside us, you can be assured they’ll be using more than rubber gloves on you next time you go through airport security. But the Holy Spirit is what makes our best trips so incredible: We never travel alone.

Wherever we go, the Holy Spirit goes with us, comforting, counseling and revealing. But even as he goes with us, we find that no matter where we travel, God is already there in ways recognizable and obscure, familiar and sometimes paradigm shaking.

It’s a mystery that will take more than this lifetime to comprehend, but it turns the idea of being there into a rich equation wherein we travel the world with God to find God in the world. We pursue the Lord of the universe only to discover the most amazing realization of all: that he is pursuing us and has been all our lives. He shows up in the most unlikely ways and places. Yet by being there, in a new location, we’re able to see or understand him in a whole new light.

Granted, this is a very different way to think about the phrase, “You had to be there.” But when you begin to grasp the meaning behind it, you will never travel the same again.

To be continued…

You can also read Part 1, Part 2 1/2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5 of this series.

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13 comments

You have no idea

by Steve Brock December 28, 2010

In travel and in life, you have no idea how things will turn out. Appreciating this – and resting in it rather than resisting it – can dramatically alter how you travel and live.

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by Steve Brock December 24, 2010

Throughout the bible we see that God is a traveling God, one who goes with his people. But in the Incarnation, we come to realize that God not only goes with us, but comes to us and forever changes the way we travel…and live.

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by Steve Brock December 21, 2010

The longest journey on earth is often the twelve inches from our heads to our hearts, particularly with overly familiar subjects like Christmas. To find the real meaning of Christmas thus requires a journey of a different kind…

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