The Incarnation

The title of the sermon last week was: Jesus was Seriously Human. The point being that an all-powerful God, Creator of the universe, “pitched his tent” as a mere mortal and lived as one of us. In the sending out, Linda asked the critical question: what does this act, technically called the incarnation, mean…to me, to you, to each of us? For James the Elder (Pastor James), it means “matter matters!” God became FLESH; therefore, life is precious and being human is valuable. Otherwise, why would God have bothered with this world at all? James admonished the congregation to avoid the excuse, “I’m only human,” because it devalues our humanity. And he pointed out that our negative self-talk, “I suck” or “I’m worthless,” does the same.

Linda honed in on taking this thought seriously in how we treat other people. Because if humanity is valuable, then ALL of humanity is equally valuable. We don’t get to pick and choose who among us is worthy in God’s eyes. If humans matter because God became one of us, then ALL of us matter. Finally, for James the Younger (Worship Leader James), the main meaning in the incarnation is its example of a reckless act of love that we are invited to imitate. He likened such foolishness to a language we can’t understand because we are raised in the language of hate. By becoming human, God Jesus Man, showed us a different way. And what does the incarnation mean to me? I am overwhelmed by the idea that God loved us enough to make such a sacrifice. It is a huge reminder of how much work I still have to do in my journey of faith. My main reaction to the incarnation is shame. A perfect God gave God’s self up to an imperfect world. I can only think of how little I am willing to give up and for how few. I judge people for their ignorance and their pettiness and their cruelty. I look around me at the violence that pervades human society and wonder why God thought our species was worth saving at all. Yet God saw the darkest corners of our souls and dove into our midst with arms open wide, his flesh exposed to our whips and thorns, his heart exposed to our rejection and mockery. I won’t share a stick of gum with someone unless I think they deserve it. Meanwhile, God shared God’s very self for a whole world that didn’t deserve it. I am ashamed at how far I am from that example of what love really looks like. I am stingy with my aid and mercy. I hold it in reserve for the “truly” needy, the broken, the remorseful, the sinners of circumstance and not choice. More shamefully, I think that I am better than they are, that I somehow need God’s forgiveness less. As such, perhaps I need it more. At least those with the biggest sins know they need a savior.

So my takeaway from the incarnation is that I need to love more and judge less! Perhaps the Christian church as a whole would benefit from a greater focus on this lesson from our faith story as well. Many non-believers see the church represented as a place of judgment rather than as a place of love. It’s like our faith is a list of Dos and Don’ts and only people who follow the rules are allowed in. Worse yet, outsiders see a bunch of hypocrites who are no better at following the rules than anyone else while pretending otherwise, acting superior, and pointing the finger at others. We should all be ashamed! How different it would be if we were following the example of Jesus and diving into communities in love instead of judging them from behind closed doors!

But Linda is right. The key question is not what I, Randi Benavente, think about the incarnation, but what it means to each of us personally. It is arguably the defining characteristic of Christianity that God became human, DIED, and was born again. We must each figure out the significance of this for our own lives. Muslims, many atheists and MILLIONS of others, think that Jesus was a righteous and holy man. But they do NOT think that Jesus was God made flesh. A belief in the incarnation is what makes Christians unique. And whether that belief is in a historical literal truth, or in a figurative allegory that is truer than true, it MUST mean something to us, or why bother being Christian at all?! After all, there are plenty of religions to choose from that honor God, respect life, and ask us to be good people. Christians believe in a God who loved us so much that in the form of Jesus he stepped down from heaven and became one of us. GOD BECAME ONE OF US! To go deeper in our faith, there is no more important question to answer than this: what does that mean to ME?

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