It’s a story so strange we could not have dreamed it up by ourselves, this story of how God was incarnate in Jesus the Christ. An embarrassing pregnancy, a poor peasant couple forced to become undocumented immigrants in Egypt soon after the birth of their baby, King Herod’s slaughter of the Jewish boy babies in a vain attempt to put an end to this new “King,” From the beginning the story of Jesus is the strangest story of all. A Messiah who avoids the powerful and the prestigious and goes to the poor and dispossessed? A Savior who is rejected by many of those whom he sought to save? A King who reigns from a bloody cross? Can this one with us be God?
And yet Christians believe that this story, for all its strangeness, is true. Here we have a truthful account of how our God read us back into the story of God. This is a truthful depiction not only of who God really is but also of how we who were lost got found, redeemed, restored, and saved by a God who refused to let our rejection and rebellion (our notorious “God problem”) be the final word in the story.
Jesus the Christ (“Christ” means “Messiah,” “The Anointed One”) was a human being, a man who was born in a human family, attended parties (he was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard by his critics), moved constantly around the area of Galilee, ran afoul of the governmental and religious authorities, taught through short, pithy stories (“parables”), did a number of surprising and utterly inexplicable “signs and wonders,” and eventually was tortured to death in a horribly cruel form of capital punishment which the Romans used against troublesome Jews and rebellious trouble makers. A few days later Jesus’ astonished followers proclaimed to the world that Jesus had been raised from the dead and had returned to them, commissioning them to continue his work. (This aspect of the story has always been somewhat of a reach for those who prefer their gods to be aloof, ethereal, and at some distance from the grubby particularities of this world.)
While these are roughly the historical facts of Jesus from Nazareth, as is so often the case, the raw facts don’t tell the whole story. From the first many knew that Jesus was not only a perceptive, challenging teacher (“rabbi,” teacher, was a favorite designation for Jesus) but was also uniquely God present (“Emmanuel,” means “God with us”). In a very short time Paul (whose letters are the earliest writings in the New Testament) could acclaim crucified and resurrected Jesus as the long awaited Messiah, the Christ, the one who was the full revelation of God. Jesus was not only a loving and wise teacher; Jesus was God Almighty doing something decisive about the problems between us creatures and the Creator.
This is the story we Christians name as “Incarnation.” It is a strange, inexplicable story that we happen to believe is true, the story that explains everything, the key to what’s going on between us and God. It is the story that we encounter each year at Advent, that season of reflection and penitence before Christmas.
It’s Advent. The church gives us the grace of four Sundays to get ourselves prepared for the jolt of once again being encountered by the Word made flesh, God with us.