This Sunday, City Chapel is going to be celebrating Christmas. In July. The weather calls for partially cloudy and a high of 82℉. Have you ever had a Christmas like that in Michigan? Me neither. We’ve started working our way through the gospel of Matthew, and thus, we hit the birth of Jesus (Christians celebrate this during Christmas) not on December 25th, but July 22nd. (Side note, my birthday was Monday, and Christmas is my favorite time of year so this is like a little birthday gift to myself in a way). But, the big thing, the big deal about this reality (the birth of Jesus) is something Christians call the incarnation.
Merriam-Webster definition of incarnation: (1) the embodiment of a deity or spirit in some earthly form (2) capitalized : the union of divinity with humanity in Jesus Christ.
This reality, that God became (hu)man, put on flesh, grew up, was vulnerable, and lived among us, is a truth that can be lost in all the glitter and gold of the holiday season. Which is why I’m particularly excited to be “celebrating” Christmas in July. It’s not surrounded, and many times drowned out, by all the noise and bustle that comes with the season--shopping, family, anxiety, favorite tv show and movies, decorations. It feels as though we can dive into the incarnation aspect more than usual. I love how Eugene Peterson talks about this in his paraphrase of the gospel John: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.”
Why is the incarnation important? As Gregory the Great (c. 540-640) said, “we say that the Word was made flesh not by losing what He was, but by taking what He was not. For in the mystery of His Incarnation the Only-begotten of the Father increased what was ours, but diminished not what was His.” (Book XI, Letter 67. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 13) In the incarnation, God, forevermore, has increased our fleshiness, our material-ness, by taking it on Godself. This act gives legitimacy to the material world.
We see this in the future scene in the book of Revelation. John tells of a scene, not where everyone and everything is leaving this world, but where God comes back to this world and redeems it. This world, that we see in Genesis that God made, which God calls good. And, when God made humans, said that it was very good. God has no intentions of abandoning His creation. God is in the business of redeeming it. And, God took that promise, that covenant, on Godself by becoming flesh, putting on the created-ness that we are, dying for our brokenness, and then rising again, defeating death. And then rose again in the flesh. Not returning to the previous, non-flesh-y divinity. But, the new, God-man divinity. And Jesus promises to return again and make ALL things new. Return. Not flee. Not leave. Not disappear. Returning in the flesh.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself. We’re talking about Christmas, not Easter and beyond right now. The incarnation reminds us to not get caught up only dreaming about a better life in the future. But, to care about those hurting around us today. We see this in communion. Jesus took the everyday things of bread and wine and says, these are important. Eat with one another. This is me. I am your daily bread. I am your sustenance and your joy. Dine on me as you dine with others. I took on flesh to redeem all that you are.
One last thing to add. When Jesus was born as a human baby, he was vulnerable. He took on all aspects of humanity. And, his parents had to flee their home country because it was dangerous to him. They had to get out and go to another country ASAP. They were refugees. I wonder what Jesus, the risen God-man, thinks about how all of the refugees--fleeing hardships in their own home countries--are being treated and (un)welcomed.
“Who is my neighbor?” is one of the most politically charged questions of our day and age. And, Jesus’ answer is, “you be the good neighbor.” As we celebrate #christmasinjuly, and when December rolls around and we celebrate it again with all the other aspects of the holiday season, may we remember the reality of the first Christmas. A poor family giving birth in a barn. And then having to flee that country without friends or family. And think of how this is still a reality for many people today. We love to be people that think and say, “I would have let Mary and Joseph into my house or my inn.” Okay, then do it today.
“‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’” (Matthew 25:44-45)
Written by Ron Radcliffe