November 20, 2012
God Made Flesh
Our nation loves war. If you have been listening to any of the political speak lately, you will be hard-pressed not to find examples of violent language used to describe a whole variety of things. We have declared war against Afganistan, Iraq, crime and drugs. At the same time, we have also declared war on the poor, the prostituted, the undocumented, the refugee, the felon and the panhandler. We project ourselves as ones who are right and righteous while simultaneously dehumanizing those who aren’t like us - those who are deemed to be wicked and unworthy of camaraderie.
The fruit of all this division is oppression and marginalization. This separation allows us the space to reduce whole races, ethnic groups, genders and classes to a subhuman status. That’s how a society can dismiss an entire country “because they are all terrorists” or a homeless person “because they are all lazy drunks who are unworthy of compassion.”
Jesus was also the victim of this kind of labeling. He was mocked by Nathaneal because of the town He came from: “‘Nazareth! Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46). This encounter demonstrates the prejudice and labeling present in Jesus’ day, but it also reveals something more; something beautiful about the heart of God.
Speaking about Jesus’ birth, Henri Nouwen stated, “Jesus is God-with-us, Emmanuel. The great mystery of God becoming human is God’s desire to be loved by us. By becoming a vulnerable child, completely dependent on human care, God wants to take away all distance between the human and the divine… We usually talk about God as the all-powerful, almighty God on whom we depend completely. But God wanted to become the all-powerless, all-vulnerable God who completely depends on us.” One might also recall the passage in Philippians that speaks of Jesus as one who made himself nothing, taking on the nature of a servant (Phil. 2:6-8). All of these examples involve a path of downward mobility. God’s own Son was met with criticism because He came from a neighborhood of low standing, not unlike the neighborhood in which Cherith Brook is situated. Instead of building God’s kingdom by rubbing shoulders with the political elites of his day, Jesus made himself low; Jesus practiced solidarity.
This aspect of Jesus’ ministry is timely as we enter into the season of Advent. As we collectively look ahead to the day God became flesh and bone, it is important for us to remember that Jesus was not born into privilege or wealth. Jesus was homeless. Jesus’ family were political refugees. Jesus was undocumented. Jesus begged for hospitality from others. Jesus spent time in jail. Jesus was even sold for 20 pieces of silver. On a different level, God chose to practice downward mobility by sending Jesus—God made flesh—into the world as a baby who was fully dependent on Mary and Joseph for survival. God became human, lived our suffering, and through the sacrificial nature of solidarity gave birth to a new, reconciled community.
The act of God becoming flesh, depending on us, and then redeeming us provides a new framework for us from which to operate. It reminds us of the significance of caring for others in sacrificial and sometimes inconvenient ways. Instead of letting our taxes be the only way the poor are cared for, we are reminded to directly help our neighbors in need. Instead of spending all our efforts trying to attain power and prestige, we are reminded of the Christian’s call to the margins and to the practice of the kind of downward mobility Jesus modeled for us. In doing so, we avoid the popular criticism of the Christian as one who will pray for someone but will “pass the buck” when it comes to raising up the lowly by living in solidarity.
God practiced solidarity by becoming flesh and bone. Jesus practiced solidarity by living on the margins and dining with sinners. When we practice solidarity, we find there is no longer rich or poor, slave or free, Jew or Gentile, man or woman. By stepping down, we break the divisions that separate us and create a more lasting peace. We invite the felon to dine with us. We invite the homeless into our homes. We welcome the foreigner into our communities. Instead of declaring war on the panhandler, the prostituted, the felon, the undocumented and the refugee, we call them brother, sister and friend. In doing so, we embody the way of the kingdom of God—the eternal, reconciled community.
As we draw closer to the day God was made flesh, let us rejoice in God’s beautiful expression of solidarity. May it draw us closer to those on the margins - to those deemed unclean and unworthy. By removing all distance between us, we know that the hymn, “Peace on Earth,” will not only be sung at church but will become a reality in our homes.