Bishop Julian Gordy: And the Word Became Flesh

"And the Word became flesh and lived among us."

(John 1:14)

John's gospel begins, not with the birth of Jesus, but with a theological statement of incarnation: literally, "...the Word became flesh and pitched its tent with us."

The incarnation is a mystery that theologians and philosophers have pondered and argued about for centuries. How is it possible for the Creator to become a creature? How could an unlimited and infinite and immortal and unknowable God become limited and finite and mortal and knowable in the way we humans are limited and finite and mortal and knowable? How could the Almighty One who created the Himalayas and the Grand Canyon and the solar system and supernovas become an infant who has to have his diapers changed and be potty trained and learn to eat solid food? How could the God of Righteousness come to need scolding by his parents? How could the all-knowing Creator experience the ordinary fears and ignorance of childhood or the emotional and physical chaos of a teenager or the confusion and anxiety of adulthood?

The idea is the stumbling block and the scandal to some. The best answer that Christians can give is, "It's a holy mystery." But it is a mystery not primarily handed down to us as theology. It is given to us as a story, a very familiar story, a story told and sung and acted out over and over every year at this time.

The whole world knows it by now. In that birth, we believe the God of the Universe became not just a human, but a very specific human being - a poor, temporarily homeless refugee, the victim of an overbearing government policy. The event that we mark now as the turning point of human history was marked then only by the baby's parents and a few shepherds. No one else paid much attention.

In this familiar story, if we are paying attention, we discover that God is not only indescribably majestic, unapproachable light, not only inaccessible holiness and omniscience. God is also one of us, as helpless and wholly reliant on his young and inexperienced parents as any other infant.

I can't wrap my mind around the reality of the God of the swirling galaxies and the big bang, the totally other, outside time, Ground of All Being. But like most of us, I get babies. I've seen them and held them and welcomed them into the family.

In Bethlehem of Judea, on the first Christmas, God came to us as a baby, spoke to us in a language we can all understand - in the story of a baby's first cry, a mother's protective love, a father's anxious standing by. For two thousand years we have been telling the story because it is the best we can do to explain the unexplainable, to say thanks for something so fine as this baby who is evidence that God is with us, with the least of us, with every last one of us.

God is with the poor and the hungry, with the homeless and the unemployed, with the lonely and the addicted, with the sick and the dying. God has not forgotten the refugees and the persecuted and the misunderstood. God is with us. God is with us in the dangerous city of Kandahar, in the refugee camp in Darfur, in the walled-off-prison city of Bethlehem.

God is with us when our marriages fall apart, when our children get in trouble. God is with us when our health fails, when age and disease whittle away at our stamina and our competence. God is with us.

So we tell the story again until we can see God with us. We tell it until we can see God with the unwanted and forgotten of the world. We tell the story until it is pressed into our conscience, until God becomes incarnate in us and we begin, to some degree anyway, to become Christ to our neighbors, incarnations of the good news that God loves the world.

-Bishop H. Julian Gordy

Southeastern Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

[Used with permission]