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  • Writer's pictureChurch of the Incarnation

That God, in Jesus Christ, became one of us

Like most of you, I was taught and conditioned to see everything through the lens that insisted on a particular narrative: that power, control and influence over one’s own life and possibly, the lives of others, is the ultimate goal of life. But as soon as I was getting ready to graduate from university, I started to see cracks in this narrative that our society had created. 

I used to go to this restaurant on Hillsborough Street just across from the NC State campus where I did my undergrad degrees. There was a man outside the restaurant asking for money or food. I remember thinking to myself: “what happened to this man, why is he on the street.” So one day I asked him. He said to me, “After I was hit with the chemical bombs in Iraq, my brain don’t function right.”

At the same time, I had agreed to take notes for a fellow classmate, Corey. He too had nerve damage from chemical warfare used in Iraq. I remember thinking, “thank god that isn’t me.” And then I heard from a friend with whom I’d grown up, another type 1 diabetic like me. He was a professional drummer, but he’d had to give it up because he developed neuropathy in his hands and feet from uncontrolled blood sugars. 

I remember asking myself, “what a horrific life, to be weak, fragile, incapacitated; to cease to have meaning in this world where our intelligence, our physical capacity, our power, make us secure.” 

How do I make sense of this? And I held onto this thought through seeing an economic recession cause the mighty to fall, and the average to lose their homes, a questionable war resulting in new forms of violence, political and social turmoil over issues of discrimination, you name it. And in the midst of all of this I happened upon a manger scene outside a church on Christmas Eve. I was familiar enough with the scene to know that the empty cradle was to contain this Person, Jesus, whom I knew had some sort of relationship to God. 

And so I went and got a hold of a bible and read this: “And [Mary] gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for see--I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

I was awestruck by this: Christians claimed that their God entered into our world not with power and might, not by war or chemical weapons, or making money on the interest paid on mortgages for homes that give people shelter, not even by wiping the slate clean or with some crushing unbearable glory that could not be borne by us. He came into the world as a weak baby, vulnerable, and in need; his mother liable to be stoned for carrying him into the world.

This infant Jesus was naked, cold, hungry, without the ability to reason or wield a weapon. This one who became helpless for us, so that we might, in our helplessness, be united to him, allowed us to touch him, to be healed by him, to encounter him face-to-face. And in so doing, he became the homeless man on the street whose brain was not right. He became my friend whose body could no longer take notes for the damage others had inflicted on him in war. He became the men and women who jumped from the Twin Towers. He became the men, women and children in Palestine and Israel who are kidnapped, the Ukrainians shot, raped, tortured and killed. He became the refugees who sleep on our streets here in Toronto. He became me: a type 1 diabetic with ADHD, anxiety and depression.

My worldview was flipped upside down: the neediness that I so brutally feared in myself, that I rejected and despised, that I projected onto others in turning away from them - this God Christians worship became that weakness, took it on himself, and in so doing, made all of us who will forever be weak and fragile in one way or another; he made us of the utmost value to the only judge that matters - the one who made us and brings us to himself: God.

That God in Jesus Christ, took on our flesh, our humanity, suffered its real frailty of birth, growth, rejection, betrayal, fear, sadness at his friends’ misunderstandings and deaths, anguish, violent political upheavals, being hunted down twice, and finally imprisoned and executed on false charges. That this God came to us as one of us, changes not just our thinking, but reality itself; and so what actually matters in life.

Why seek power and control, money and possessions, fleeting things, if the measure of my life is defined by receiving Christ himself as he gives himself to me over and over in the people whom he has put in my life? To grapple with that basic reality: Christ is deeper within each of us than we are in ourselves, is to begin to accumulate true wealth that will never run out. It is to find peace when everything - including your own body and mind, your household and life - seem to be falling apart.

To grapple with the fact that Christ is within each person whom we encounter, including ourselves, shines a light into the darkness of our own minds and hearts where we like to hide out and construct all sorts of narratives that protect us from our greatest fears, that stimulate our envy and anger and dismissal.

To grapple with the fact that Christ became us so that we might be drawn by his Spirit into his likeness, is to find meaning in our own lives and in the lives of others even where we see frailty, weakness, and yes, even our enemies. It is to be taken where we do not wish to go: out of the hearts of darkness that sequester us in our own blindness, our own thought patterns, and into the very life of Christ who is walking among us. AMEN  

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