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The Incarnation

Posted by on 01/03/2012

I am reading Bobby Gross’ Living the Christian Year as my devotional guide this Advent and Christmas. I have loved his succinct yet comprehensive and clear yet provocative reflections on Christmas.

On page 65 he writes, “The incarnation is God’s great gift to us, or at least the beginning of the gift that culminates in the death and resurrection of Jesus. For God so loved the world – so loved us – that he gave his only Son. God’s mind was to empty himself for us. God took on our poverty so that we might gain his riches. This is what the medieval Chrstians called the admirabile commercium, the wonderful exchange.”

Mr. Gross then quotes from Laurence Stookey [emphasis mine]; “ Christmas is the enfleshment of God, the humiliation of the Most High and divine participation in all that is painful, ugly, frustrating, and limited. Divinity takes on humanity, to restore the image of God implanted at creation but sullied by sin. Here is the great exchange Christmas ponders, that God became like us that we might become like God. God accepted death that the world might accept life.”

I am reading and writing this as I sit in a family cabin in the snowy mountains of Colorado. I feel keenly the paradox of joy and wonder being pulled against by a poverty and emptiness. So far this Christmas we have enjoyed sweet moments of worship, celebration, and loving fellowship. I have been blessed to reflect afresh at the beautiful mystery of this “wonderful exchange”. And yet also, there has been a strong sense of being totally immersed in a place that is “painful, ugly, frustrating, and limited.” Parts of our ‘vacation’ have been humiliating.

The past two years have cracked wide-open some old, painful, and difficult relational dynamics in both of our families. I have begun to more personally understand those who hate the holidays, those who feel betrayed by the glittering, sentimental, proclamations of Christmas cheer and the pressure to gather happily as a family when, in truth, their hearts and relationships are in tatters, far more decorated with pain than with joy. I have felt great trepidation and emotional exhaustion as I attempt to faithfully enter in to our family celebrations. I have wondered if ought to have stayed home, soaking ourselves in the quiet and rest that 12 days off at Christmas with no visitors can provide. It’s been a long, hard year. Have we been unfaithful by not taking a seemingly much-needed, long Sabbath rest?

But as my devotional leads me into renewed reflection on the incarnation, I see that to celebrate Christmas, the day of incarnation, it might indeed be our calling to follow Jesus and do likewise, to let ourselves be dunked into the painful, frustrating, exhausting mess.

This Christmas, we are living the incarnational paradox. We wonder and rejoice. We are refreshed by the beauty of our Lord, and yet we also answer the call to follow him and abide in a place that is lonely, cold, dark, broken and disorienting. We pray and ask that God would help us to love each other as he has loved us, sacrificially willing to set aside a rest and fullness that is rightfully ours in order to be with, love, and bring life to places that have been touched by sin and death. And we are humbled to know that others must seek the same incarnational grace to be with us. And as the incarnational life grows inside of us, we have hope that we will discover not only the heart-satisfying presence of Christ, but perhaps, in slow and new ways, also life and joy in our relationships with each other.


2 Responses to The Incarnation

  1. Tamara @ this sacramental life

    Amen. I suspect so much of what we mean we use the phrase “post-holiday blues” is directly connected to this paradox. We enter the longing of Advent, we do our best to feast the days of Christmas, but ultimately we are physically stuck with one foot in Advent until Christ returns. I am so blessed by people like you who take the time to reflect and meditate the tensions and share the hope of of Christ’s “heart-satisfying presence” with us. Bless you and may the Healer shore up all those tattered places you made yourself vulnerable for His Name’s sake and for your comfort and joy.

  2. annie

    Thank you Tamara, for your thoughts, affirmation, and blessing. Our trip ended up being a joyful and encouraging experience of the healing and life that comes through obediently having “one foot in Advent” and one in Christmas. I love how you put that.

    This Christmas, as we did our best to follow Him and incarnate His love where He would have us, I continue to learn that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. That He works through me instead of demanding that I work for Him. And as I accept that His ways are slow and patient, not like my demanding hurried ways, I have more peace and grace and freedom in our family journeys.

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