Bumper stickers and Facebook posts braying that "Jesus is the reason for the season" are rife at this time of year. Of course they are: without the commemoration of the birth of Jesus, there would be no Christmas. But in a deeper way, the focus on on the birth of Jesus misses the point of Incarnation in a very, very big way.
Incarnation -- it shares a root with "carnivore" -- is about meat or flesh. It is about the embodiment (now there's a cleaned-up concept!) of non-physical spirit in a physical or fleshy body. The Incarnation that Christmas celebrates is about God taking on a human form, being developed through a human pregnancy and born as a human child. It's a story of extremes -- divine, timeless and ever-present God being focused into a mortal body, squeezed into a single historical moment and limited to a minuscule spot in the boundless cosmos. From the expanses of serenity and holiness, God forces himself into a dirty, noisy and dangerous human existence. The story tells of a strange Creator who is willing to suffer the dangers and deprivations of the created.
But is that all? Is incarnation limited to Jesus, a special case among human beings, who is worshipped because of his fundamental difference from the rest of us? Can we humans also share in incarnation?
The answer is an emphatic and world-changing "yes."
We are born into a world of violence, addiction, oppression and lack of regard for the needy. Yet we are surrounded by untapped spiritual potential. Flitting about our heads, like specters in a Dickens' novel, are principles of truth, justice, courage, hope, joy, empathy, love, tenderness and fortitude. These are divine sparks, aspects of an ever-loving God, ripe for the plucking. Human beings have the ability to make these principles real, to embody them, to enflesh them. When we stand for the true against the false and the self-serving; when we opt for hope in the face of despair; when we choose fairness over self-interest; when we choose love over hate; when we pluck from the ether an eternal principle and make it real -- in our words, our actions or our prayers -- we incarnate them. We give them bodies through which to act. We give them limbs with which to move. We give them voices with which to speak.
In Jesus, the Father incarnated his entire being. It's why it's called The Incarnation. But it is not The Only Incarnation. God, as he has done through human history and throughout the biblical narrative, has given us a pattern to copy, a path to follow. In Jesus, God was made flesh, not as a once-in-history event that requires hands-off adoration and worship at a distance, but as an example. If we spend Christmas oohing and aahing at the beauty of The Child, we do well. But we miss the larger and more important lesson: to make God's many aspects -- his love, truth, justice and hope -- manifest in time and space.
May the deeper message of Christmas -- that God's love be incarnate in you and me -- be planted in our hearts now and throughout the coming years.