It is frankly absurd to believe that God came into this world as, of all things, a human being. Fully divine, yes, but fully human, too.
Yet the whole crux of Christianity, I believe, hangs on this one great, scandalous mystery called “the Incarnation.”
Here are missional church thinkers Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost in their groundbreaking work, The Shaping of Things to Come: “For us the Incarnation is an absolutely fundamental doctrine, not just as an irreducible part of the Christian confession, but also as a theological prism through which we view our entire missional task in the world.”
In my work as an itinerant pastor of sorts traveling from trucking companies to real estate firms and assisted living centers, it is not uncommon for people to ask if I really believe that Christianity is unique. Is Christianity really any different from all the other religions out there?
I respond that what makes Christianity so distinctive (at least for me) is the crazy idea that God really walked in our shoes.
It’s absurd- but then so is life itself.
And if we human beings are incurable believers, if we have to believe in something, then I’ll hang my coat on this peg over all the others.
Because if God really did what we Christians affirm- if God in Jesus inhabited the same human stuff I’m made of- then God really does believe that my frail, finite, limited flesh is worth redeeming.
So much so that God will stake God’s life on the fact that I’m worth being made whole.
These days I often wonder if much of the church has simply forgotten the centrality of the Incarnation. A God who meets us where we are as real people with real questions is not a God who waits for us to show up in church each Sunday, or simply hangs out there, maybe in the stained glass windows, waiting for us to come back in order to admire the pretty colors and architecture.
The God I read about in Scripture is a God on the move and very much in the world, engaging real people with real questions and inviting them into relationship.
I like to say that God shows up in church sometimes.
Which is one of the reasons I do what I do as an itinerant pastor.
The other day at one of the assisted living homes I serve, I was asked to visit one particular elderly woman known for her orneriness. When I knocked on her door, she bid me come in. I found her sitting in her undies in a wheelchair doing her bills.
“You’re doing bills, eh?,” I asked. “That doesn’t look very fun.”
Recognizing me as the chaplain who had visited the week before, she said, politely but cooly, “I think bills are good company actually.”
I had gotten the hint. When you’re sitting in your underwear and your bills are better company, this chaplain will not overstay her welcome. You have my solemn promise.
But there is something reassuring in knowing that God doesn’t wait for us to put on our best attire and holiest demeanor to meet us where we are.
God in Jesus comes to us when we’re still sinners.
When we’re least likely to put up pretenses.
Or buy cheap, self-help trinkets from the pulpit.
Or even set foot in church.
That’s often when God comes to us.
In our gritty, messy humanity, God comes and says “I’m in your court.”
And we? We get to witness how God shows up. Or follow God there.
So while the Incarnation may be absurd, as absurd and miraculous as the fact that you and I are here at this intersection between life and God alive and breathing, the Incarnation is also a great, big adventure.
It’s an adventure I’ll take over stained glass windows any day.
If you, like me, are an adventurer, and are curious about how to help the church rediscover the centrality of a God who meets us in our underwear, Hirsch and Frost will be speaking at this year’s Sentralized gathering (September 27-29). I hope you’ll consider joining me there.