The following is the final devotional of my Advent book, Just One Word. This devo is simply entitled “Flesh,” based on John 1:14: “Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us’” (Jn 1:14 NET).
Ancient philosophers dubbed it a “scandal.”
A modern religious professor calls it a “myth.”
Muslims say those who accept the doctrine are guilty of “shirk,” the unforgivable sin.
Even some ministers deny the teaching from their pulpits.
What is this controversial creed, a doctrine that has pitted Christians against Christian, sparked charges of heresy and convened church councils to adopt official statements?
It is the doctrine of the Incarnation. God slipping on skin. The Infinite becoming an infant. Deity and humanity melded into one.
On the surface, it sounds mythological. A religious metaphor, at best. Others have been less genteel. President John Adams branded the Incarnation as “an awful blasphemy.”
Yet the scriptures can’t be any clearer about it. The eternal Word—God in all His wisdom, knowledge and power–became flesh. This is the truth of Christmas. Often we decry the materialism of the season, when Christmas is material at its core. You can’t get more material than a physical human body.
Some who are captivated by the idea of Incarnation still may ask, “Why would the Supreme Being submit to being encased in a human body? Was God play-acting a role? Performing a magic trick? Coming down to check on us?”
In 1999, doctors at the Arlington, Texas Cancer Center strapped on computerized headgear to experience the “In My Steps” virtual-reality simulator. The interactive device impaired their bodily movements, making an exhausting marathon out of such simple tasks as making tea and answering the door.
After fifteen minutes of hard work, Dr. Lee Drinkard said that the machine did its job. “It was very taxing and challenging,” he said. “It sensitized me.”
In Jesus, God strapped on flesh to sympathize with our struggles. The Lord of sea and sky came to take on our troubles. Bear our burdens. Commiserate with our condition. In the end, the One who had no sin became sin on the cross.
No wonder the Incarnation is a scandal. Even the church has sometimes shied away from this shocking truth. We have painted Jesus as a gossamer figure, stripped of needs, incapable of deep emotion. Yet the Bible tells us that he wept, slumbered, told stories, got angry. He knew the discomfort of a hungry belly, parched lips, blistered feet. He encountered temptation. He tasted joy. He slogged through despair. Even after He conquered death, Jesus appeared in bodily form to prove he wasn’t a phantom, his wound marks still intact.
It’s a scandal, all right. Scandals snatch away your pride, rob your dignity, heap on shame.
It would be a scandal if a king washed dirty feet. Or worse, still – if a loose woman washed his feet.
An embarrassment for a monarch to give up his scepter for a saw and his robes for a sweaty tunic.
A disgrace for a ruler to be stripped naked, beaten and executed in public.
It happened to God.
It’s a scandal. No way around it.