God Became Flesh
God became flesh.
That is the meaning of “Incarnation.” It is an old Latin word: “in-” (into) + “carn-” (flesh) = “incarnate” (into flesh). The combination is basic enough, except that anytime we throw “-tions” on the ends of words they take on a more formal sense. The Incarnation can sound religiously opaque, even abstract, though that is exactly the opposite of it’s meaning.
I would rather you hear the word carnitas in there, like the stuff you order at Chipotle and they scoop out onto your burrito bowl before sliding it down the line, and the next person behind the counter turns to look at you, waiting for you to tell her which salsa you want, but you’re stuck trying to decide whether you should yell out over the five people ahead of you or just wait until you are standing in front of your own bowl, and then you figure you might as well just say it loudly because you’re fine if everyone in the restaurant knows you like the mild salsa with just a tad of the medium.
That experience is more like the fleshly existence that God entered into. It’s what the Bible teaches in places like John 1:14, “The Word became flesh,” or in Romans 8:3, God having sent “his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh.” It is one thing to know that Jesus is God become man — sinless man, perfect man, truest man; but it is another thing to remember that his sinless, perfect, truest manness was in flesh. And we’re talking actual flesh. We’re talking skin flesh with it’s own pigment and sweat that covers bones and vessels and holds together our aches and pains. We’re talking flesh like ours. Jesus stepped into that. And if we’re ever going to grasp his realness, we have to understand this crucial truth.
Jesus became flesh in such a way that he knows what it is like to be you. Yes, he did this centuries ago, and yes, the times have changed, but the human condition hasn’t. Jesus was tempted in every way that you’ve been tempted, in flesh and blood like yours. So he knows. He knows the whole hog of what it means to be human.
And it’s “he knows” — not he “knew.”
The past tense won’t work here because Jesus is raised from the dead and very much alive, very much still incarnate, and he’s in the presence of God.
This last part is important. It means that everything that Jesus knew about our flesh — all that he learned in his historical skin fraught by temptation and weakness — he knows right now at the Father’s right hand.
Jesus has taken his firsthand knowledge of our flesh and blood, our skin and bones, and he has brought that into his eternal relationship with the Father and Spirit. The into-flesh of God with man has effected the into-fellowship of man with God. Jesus entering into our flesh has meant, upon his resurrection and ascension, our flesh has entered into his eternal, divine society. He knows all about our flesh and blood right now — because:
IN THIS MOMENT
he IS flesh and blood
IN triune fellowship.
And even as I am writing this, I know that I don’t fully understand it. We can’t, can we? Have mercy on us, Jesus, for the incredible inertia in our minds that so fiercely abstracts you. I keep trying to throw you into categories here, and I’m not scratching the surface of what you’ve done, and it’s frustrating — and I wonder if you know what that is like. Do you get my limitations? Do you get what it feels like when I find myself feeling ways I don’t want to feel?
Yes, he gets that, somehow, for what could be of more flesh and blood?
He always gets it, see. He always gets it. Stop for a minute and think — [Jesus, would you give us light?] — think about your hardest moments. Think about those times when you feel your fleshness the most, whether that means emotional pain or a dull headache or simply the exhaustion of trying to do more faster. Whatever that is, think about it. Think about the ugh, the yuck, the frustration of being vulnerable, of being weak, of being flesh. Think about that. Yes, that one. Even that. Think about that and know:
Not hypothetically, not merely by omniscience, not because he’s observed it before — but he knows because he has experienced it, somehow. And that means in those hardest moments, when it’s thick with difficulty and you can’t muster a decent God-thought if it smacked you upside the head, Jesus knows so much of where you are that he comes alongside you. He enters with you into where you are from where he is in the majesty of God.
“The unassumed is the unredeemed,” said old Gregory of Nazianzus. There is no crack or crevice in your life that the salvation of God does not invade. Far as the curse is found, we sing, because God became flesh.
Merry Christmas, dear church!
– Pastor Jonathan