This is the last of the Christmas blog re-runs, and one of my favourite things I’ve ever written. It dates back to 2004 and I hope it will be timely as you recover from your Christmas Day festivities and, if you have good sense, begin on 12 days of feasting and celebration.
At this time of year we celebrate Incarnation: God taking on human flesh.
I dislike the word “flesh.” I try to avoid using it. It’s an unpleasant-sounding word, and I don’t like its connotations. “Flesh” sounds flabby, raw, unhealthy.
It also has negative connotations in the spiritual realm. “Incarnation” comes from the same root as “carnal,” the word St. Paul uses to describe the fallen, sinful tendencies of our human — fleshly — bodies.
The truth of Christmas is that Jesus came all this way to get a human body…but really, who the hell would want one? Human bodies are messy, flawed, fragile and inconvenient. They feel pain. Parts get injured and break. Human bodies overeat and get overweight … or they don’t get enough to eat and shrivel into starvation. Human bodies lead us into temptation. They get sexually aroused at inopportune times. Sometimes they fail to get aroused at opportune times. Human bodies inflict violence on other human bodies. We bleed. We make each other bleed. And if we somehow navigate all the pitfalls of the flesh, our bodies simply grow old and die.
Yet Christianity is not a dualistic religion in which “flesh” is simply bad and soul or spirit is simply good. The Bible teaches that God created our human bodies, cares for our human bodies, and will eventually resurrect and recreate our human bodies. Christianity goes a step farther than any other world religion and teaches that God not only values human bodies, God actually wears a human body. In the Incarnation Jesus took on our flesh — our sinful, fallible, flawed flesh.
Flesh brings us down; flesh also lifts us to our finest hours. Only in human bodies can we know the bliss of union between lovers. Only in a human body can a woman share for a few months the experience of the Creator as she grows another human life inside her womb, pushes out into the world, then sustains and nourishes it with milk from her breast. Only in human bodies can we hold a child, a parent, a lover in our arms. Only with human bodies can we laugh and cry and kiss and taste and touch and participate completely in the world God created for us. And in human bodies–transformed and glorified–we will someday be raised to live eternally.
In this human flesh, fragile and fallen, the Son of God deigned to meet us on our own ground: to become a helpless human infant suckling a mother’s breast; to be hungry and exhausted and weak; to bleed and to die.
Christmas in the secular world sometimes seems an inappropriate time for Christians to celebrate Christ’s birth. It’s hard to ponder the mystery of Incarnation in the midst of holiday specials and the shopping-days countdown and the flashing lights and Santa and Rudolph and Frosty and the Grinch. At Christmas our carnal nature shows its best — the glowing face of a child opening a longed-for toy — and its worst — the vicious triumph of the mother who literally had to wrestle another shopper to the floor of Wal-Mart to rip the last Furby from her shaking fingers.
I have no doubt that the Christ who loves the poor and oppressed deplores the consumerism that runs rampant at Christmas. I have no doubt that He longs for each one of us to make this a simpler time, to lay aside stress and ridiculous expectations of the “perfect” holiday, to spend more time listening to Him and less time looking for replacement bulbs for the tree lights.
But I also believe that the God who was not too proud to lie in an animal’s feed box in a barn, wrapped in the fragile flesh of an infant human body, is not too lofty to descend to meet us in the middle of our overpriced, overstressed, commercialized Christmas. He who did not refuse the company of cow and donkey does not exclaim, “Oh, how tacky!” when He sees His own image in the manger scene surrounded by Santa, Rudolph or Frosty. He descends into human flesh, into the carnality of Incarnation, and stoops to meet us in mangers and malls, in stables and supermarkets.
Christmas tells us that our God joins us in the experience of being human, having a human body. But Christmas is only Act I of the story. The grand finale, His resurrection, assures us that while He became truly human and experienced all humanity had to offer, the divine does not enter humanity and leave it unchanged. Jesus not only took on human flesh; He transformed human flesh. His resurrected body was recognizably human — He walked, talked, ate, cooked fish with His friends — but it was also far more than human, far more than the body that was born in the stable on Christmas Eve. God became human, and entirely transformed the experience of what it means to be human, to live within a human body.
So He is humble enough to meet us, this Christmas, in the check-out aisle of Canadian Tire as we realize with dread that the string of lights in our hand -the last string on the shelf –will not in fact connect to the three strings we already have at home. He will meet us in the overcrowded dining room as the uncle we haven’t seen in twenty years asks embarrassing and inappropriate personal questions over a plate of turkey and dressing. He will meet us amid the stress, the shopping, the crowds and the ornaments and yes, even the blinking lights. He will meet us there, enter into the experience of human flesh, and, if we allow Him, He will transform our Christmas, our flesh, our humanity.
He’s not too good for a stable; He’s not too good for a human body, and He’s not too good for Christmas. All He asks is that we meet Him there.