How Now Shall We Respond? (part 4: The Scandal of the Incarnation)
The scandal of the Incarnation has produced more heresies than any other doctrine of the Christian faith. People can believe Jesus is God, but they can't believe he's human. Or they can believe Jesus was a man, but they can't believe he was also God. This is the central point over which lots of folks stumble, and the Bible clearly says that this doctrinal heresy must be confronted. But, before we get all charged up and rush out to confront heresy, let's make sure we've got an accurate understanding of the Incarnation ourselves. A culture war went on in the early church between those who accented Jesus' divinity and those who stressed his humanity. And there were extremists on both sides. Orthodox Christianity has always fought to maintain a both/and posture as opposed to an either/or. We need to make sure we haven't swung the pendulum too far in the opposite direction. After all, those are our sterile nativity scenes on display right now; those are our songs that suggest Jesus didn't cry when he was a baby ("Little Lord Jesus no crying he makes"). We bankrolled and watched the "Breck Girl" Jesus movies that have him floating around in a daze, with his feathered hair, speaking in an otherworldly tone. These are equally erroneous and must be corrected before we can ever hope to correct anyone else's error.
Perhaps we should take a refresher course in the humanity and humility surrounding the birth of Jesus as a means for understanding the grace we should be willing to extend to others.
Think back to the most comfortable place you've ever been. Remember the warm sun and the soothing sounds, the beautiful aroma or fresh-baked bread or roasting meat over an open fire, the knowledge that everything is under control, so there's not one thing to worry about? Have you ever been waited on hand and foot, surrounded by people telling you how wonderful you look, how wonderful you smell, how wonderful you are?
Do you have that in your mind? Label that place A.
Now, have you ever been to a working dairy farm? Remember those smells and those sights? You have to watch your step everywhere you go, and you might not want to touch anything unless you're wearing gloves. Have you ever seen a feeding trough? The edges of them tend to be really smooth because of all the cow tongues that have lapped up every kernel of corn and grain and table scrap. Did we mention that cows do their business standing up, often while eating? The very fact that you would be looking at a cattle trough means you're probably standing in the waste created by the cattle.
That's the most delicate way I can communicate that.
Okay, do you have all that in your mind? Label that place B.
Let's continue with the graphic descriptions, shall we? Have you ever seen a baby being born? It's not exactly a noble way to enter the world. Even with the best medical attention and technology, it's still a really gross thing to watch. There's blood, sweat, mucus and screaming (and that's just from the dads). When Jesus was born, there weren't any nurses or doctors with sterilized instruments and medicine, no clean linen or machines that go "ping"! There were just two peasants in a cave among the flies, barnyard animals and manure. When God was born they wrapped him in strips of cloth and laid him in a feed trough.
Think of that: the Author of Life, the King of kings, the Prince of peace lying there among the spittle and leftover feed.
That's the Incarnation.
In one moment, Jesus went from the most comfortable and beautiful place that has ever and will ever exist to one of the grossest, germiest places you can imagine. From A to B in a heartbeat.
Before he spoke a word, he built a bridge. He came from heaven to earth to make a way for us to get from earth to heaven. That's what I mean when I say that Jesus built a bridge. He brought us grace, and without grace there's no salvation. Without grace, there's no hope. Without grace, there's nothing beyond the grave except misery and punishment and the full extent of human depravity without restraint in one, unending, monotonous, tortuous eternity.
That's where we were headed. And that's where we'd still be headed if it weren't for Jesus and the grace he provides. He built a bridge to make a way back for us to return to our heavenly Father. And after he built that bridge and demonstrated its ability to return us home, he turned on a light. It was after he came in humility, awkwardly learning to walk and talk and navigate life in our world, that he asked us to humble ourselves, awkwardly learning to walk and talk and navigate life in his world.
He could ask us then.
He'd earned the right.