Incarnation: God getting down

By Bill Lewellis

Anglican reflection on our relationship with God begins with Christmas … with God getting down. From there, we move toward the cross and resurrection. In many faith groups, reflection about our relationship with God begins with Good Friday and Easter… with fallen humanity that needs to be saved. I’m not suggesting that one way of getting at the mystery of our relationship with God is better than the other. How would I know? But they are different. And one surely works better for me: to begin not with “Am I saved?” but with “Have I gotten down?” Do I know people in low places?

   The basic Christmas truth is that Jesus is God getting down  and that God continues to touch us through flesh and blood. God uses many media of self disclosure. God touches us through family, relatives, friends, people we don’t even know, even unlikely persons? It’s all part of Incarnation. What story might you tell to celebrate God’s Incarnation … about one way, perhaps, that the word became flesh in your life? How have you touched others?

   Christmas is about a special moment of God’s intervention in history. Christian theology calls it the coming – the already but not yet coming – of the kingdom of God. Through his life and ministry, Jesus pointed to the coming of the kingdom of God. He used subversive speech -- parables and stories that subverted the ordinary, familiar, taken-for-granted world in which we live, while pointing to a strange, surprising world, a world turned upside down. And we know what happened to him.

   I recall years ago when I first heard the phrase altruistic donation. A new way to think about the coming of the kingdom. Altruistic donation. I knew what each word meant, but the phrase in its specialized context was new to me. It has to do with organ donors. Of the more than 100,000 living kidney donors in the U.S., less than one half of one percent were altruistic donors in the sense of people who gave their organs to strangers.

   One would think there might be more. Actually, there are. Many more people make the altruistic offer. Few altruistic donors, however, are accepted. Only about 5%, one of every 20 who make the offer. Most are rejected because altruistic donors must pass rigorous physical and mental health testing. That makes sense. But I do long for a world where altruistic donation of any sort would be the norm, where the presumption would not have to be that altruistic donors have mental health issues.

   That’s my take on the coming of the kingdom, a time when our world will be filled with altruistic donors, joining God to do what we can do to bring about right relationships. God has already gotten down to make the relationship between God and us right. Now, we need continually to get down to make relationships among ourselves right.

   In Episode #32 of The West Wing, a person on the president's staff, having undergone a traumatic event, is required to see a doctor of the American Trauma Victims Association. The session goes on all day and well into the night. The diagnosis is PTSD. Josh is worried that this will cause him to be let go from the president's staff. When Josh heads back to his office, he passes Leo, chief-of-staff and recovering alcoholic, who is sitting in the lobby. "How'd it go?" Leo asks. After some banter, Josh tells Leo what he has been trying to hide – fear about losing his job. Then Leo tells him a story.

   "This guy's walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can't get out."A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, 'Hey you. Can you help me out?' The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on."Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, 'Father, I'm down in this hole can you help me out?' The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a friend walks by, 'Hey, Joe, it's me can you help me out?' And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, 'Are you stupid? Now we're both down here.' The friend says, 'Yeah, but I've been down here before and I know the way out.'"

   After that, Leo tells Josh not to worry about his job. "As long as I got a job, you got a job."

Now that’s a Christmas story. The mystery and the scandal of incarnation. The Word was made flesh. God getting down. “Are you stupid, God? Now we’re both down here.” That’s the Christmas story, not so much a story about Jesus as it is a story of God. God is in the hole with us.

   That’s what we discover at the manger.
That’s where Christianity begins, with God becoming one of us. Theologians call it the Incarnation. Not the birthday of Jesus – we don’t know when Jesus was born – but the Incarnation. That’s the mystery we contemplate with joy and wonder at the manger.