DEEPER HOPE

Deeper Hope:

An Abiding Virtue

This book explores the meaning -- and application -- of Christian Hope. It takes the fuzzy concept of Hope and reveals it in everyday settings

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Incarnation: Where Words Fail

All language falls short of reality, but when we try to describe the mystery of the Incarnation, words fails utterly. It is a mystery so great angels still long to look into it, yet throughout history the wise and learned have poured forth a profusion of words, trying to explain it. Good luck with that.

The Incarnation. It’s such a strange word, tinged with stained glass and solemn intonation. We inherited the word from Latin, when that beautiful language tried to express, “to be made flesh.” So strange. To be made flesh. Not to be made of flesh, but rather rendered into flesh. Someone--God--was changed into flesh. No wonder the angels were curious.

Theologians raise objections: God cannot “become” anything because God cannot change. I’m not smart enough to be a theologian. I can only point to the witness of the Holy Spirit: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) Although the words of men have failed to explain it, still the Word became flesh. God describes himself as “the Word.” What is that Word? It is, simply, Jesus. The Word spoken was an entire life, and that life was the light of men. In that one Word/Life, we discover the glory of God, the grace of God, and the truth of God.

In Jesus, God pitched his tent among us and showed us how to live. God wasn’t “slumming,” like some Hollywood star sleeping on the streets for one night. He left the most exclusive gated community in all creation and became a little lower than the angels. He lived among us--as one of us--without the benefits of his heavenly position. The Christmas story comes to us filled with drama and pathos, but in our celebration of the Christ Child, the faith of his parents, the wonder of the Magi, and worship from the shepherds it’s easy to miss the point: it’s the beginning of the gospel story, not the whole story. His life had just begun. He would live it to the full, as our example.

What does it look like for God to live as a man? It starts with humility, danger, and promise--not so different from each human life that comes from God. It starts with desperation and need but it continues day after day, month after month, year after year--until God’s purposes are fulfilled. Jesus the baby became Jesus the child. And in the same succession of days we all experience, Jesus the child became Jesus the man. He showed us how it’s done. He took no shortcuts, he did not cheat on the exam of life. He was “tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin” (Hebrew 4:15). Most people I know simply cannot comprehend that Jesus faced life in the very same way we face life. Surely he must’ve had some advantage, we think.

For the past two hundred years the divinity of Jesus has been under attack, and the church has rushed to defend from those attacks. Rightly so: he is the Son of God. However, decades of emphasis on his divine nature have come at the expense of an understanding of his humanity. Jesus lived his daily life in communion with the Father using the same means open to each one of us: prayer, openness to the Spirit, the witness of scripture, a listening ear, and the life of a disciple. The child Jesus “grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52). It was no charade: Jesus was a man. If we grasp his humanity we can encounter the hope of Christlikeness for ourselves. The Incarnation is not only a theological teaching, it is a picture of what is possible for followers of Jesus.

An overemphasis on his divinity creates a picture of a saving God who is beyond our reach. An overemphasis on his humanity reduces Jesus to a beloved character who was simply a good man. It took the early church two centuries to come to an acceptable statement of the mystery—Jesus is at once 100% God and 100% man. The mystery is also the stuff of which Christmas is made.

Reader Comments (4)

"What does it look like for God to live as a man? It starts with humility, danger, and promise--not so different from each human life that comes from God. It starts with desperation and need but it continues day after day, month after month, year after year--until God’s purposes are fulfilled."

I love your use of these words, here—danger, desperation, promise. It's true, that we are not able to put into words exactly what it means for the Word to become flesh, but your words here have helped me grasp the concept a bit more.

December 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKristin T. (@kt_writes)

Sometimes I read something, and I just know it's inspired. Divinely. Now is one of those time. I'll need to read this a few more times...but...wow.

December 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

Thanks so much, Lisa. Blessings to you!

December 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRay Hollenbach

Kristin: I'm grateful for your encouragement, and honored that you would choose to quote a few of these words on your excellent site. Merry Christmas! ("Happy Advent"?)

December 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRay Hollenbach

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