photoIn the last couple of years, my favorite passage in Scripture has been John 1. I love the poetic and, at times, abstract language that weaves together images of the perfectly divine and organically human. Light and darkness. Children born of God. Grace and truth.

The climax of the chapter is the heart of the Gospel, the Good News, that we as Christians claim to believe. The divinity and humanity of our God in one short sentence.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. (John 1:14, NIV)

Or as Eugene Peterson writes in in The Message:

The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.

One Sunday, my students gathered for dinner and a devotional. Over heavy pasta, garlic bread, and brownies, we spent time reflecting on John 1 and particularly verse 14. I read the NIV version and then The Message and asked them what they thought.

One student said, “I just don’t think I like the Message version.”

A smile curled to my lips, “That’s interesting. Tell us why.”

He thought for a moment and responded, “It’s just so informal, the word ‘neighborhood.’ It seems too casual for God.”

Others nodded their heads in agreement, some looked conflicted. Another student spoke up and said, “I disagree, I think this language makes God seem more relatable.”

I thanked both students for their honesty and we continued to talk about the rest of the passage. For the next few days I mulled over what both students said. What an interesting conversation, the tension and perhaps discomfort we feel when confronted with the incarnation.

How our God lowered himself and became human.

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:6-8)

How he entrusted himself to an unwed virgin of low social status.

The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). (Matthew 1:23)

How he was born essentially homeless and forced to flee from genocide as a toddler.

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them… (Luke 2:6-7)

When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” (Matthew 2:13)

And in his adulthood, how he washed his disciples’ feet- a humiliating and dirty act, fit for a servant. 

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” (John 13:6-8)

In the busyness of Advent, amid the gilded decorations in storefronts and the decadent displays of lights and tinsel-draped trees, we often forget the humility God displayed in the holiday we honor. Perhaps like Peter, we are also uncomfortable with Jesus’ humanity. As my student pointed out, the incarnation is too casual. It is too informal. Our God and King, born among dirt and chaos.

But this is precisely why I love him and why the incarnation means so much to me. Our own chaos, the disasters in our life, do not stop God from coming to us. He wades in the mess with us. He moves right in the middle of our neighborhood. God himself, the Creator of the Universe, stoops down to us, like a father stoops to his children to tell them a great and beautiful story. And in his kneeling, he becomes one of us, flesh and blood through and through.

The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.

Emmanuel, God with us, help us to “ponder in our hearts” like Mary the beautiful absurdity of your incarnation. What does it mean for you to move into our neighborhoods? How would our lives be different? We invite you here, in the middle of our mess and chaos. Would you come, fully divine and fully human, in the very deepest part of our hearts? We invite you here, even if it makes us uncomfortable. Even if it seems too casual for you. Thank you for becoming like us. Thank you for showing us what it means to be truly human. Fill us with your grace and truth this last week of Advent.

In the name of King Jesus, God in the flesh,

Amen