ET INCARNATUS EST DE SPIRITU SANCTO EX MARIA VIRGINE: ET HOMO FACTUS EST. And was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary: and was made man. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld his glory, the glory of the One and Only God, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. Most of us here this morning would agree that these are among the most important words that a Christian can utter. But most of us would also find it unusual if we got very excited about these words. We would like to, we would like every fiber of our being to echo WOW when we hear such an incredible truth as God becoming man in Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, such a mystery awakens within most of us little more than a yawn, “O that’s nice.”
Before we rake ourselves over the coals of shame and guilt, I would say that such a bland reaction to a glorious truth is part of the fabric of being human. It is very difficult to keep things straight, to keep the really important things of life on the top of the list and the little things of life on the bottom. Most of the time the choice between a Big Mac and Quarter Pounder with cheese looms more important to us than the choice between Heaven and Hell. The whisperings of our friends at school and the what they think of us seem more important than the trumpet-blast of the prophets telling us what God thinks of us. Alas, we humans have a very difficult time keeping things straight.
That isn’t all. We humans do not have the ability to stay very excited about anything for too long. Whether it is some incredible grief, some great joy, some ravishing mystery we cannot sustain that emotion for long. If you lose a loved one, you cannot cry all day; you have to stop and eat a sandwich, change your underwear, sweep the kitchen floor. If you fall in love and are swooned into some state of ecstasy, you still have to look for your keys, brush your teeth, go to work. In neither case does it mean that you don’t care, or that these things no longer matter. It simply means that you’re human and you can’t sustain a particular emotion for very long.
So it is with our ability to contemplate the mystery of the incarnation- God becoming man in Jesus Christ. The importance of this event is staggering. The Word became flesh… The pre-existent Son of God, Creator of the universe, in eternal fellowship with God the Father, chose to take upon himself our humanity, not as a full grown man but as the most helpless of the human species, a baby, completely dependent upon the very ones He created. “For unto us a child is born; unto us a Son is given” (Isa.9:6). “Concerning Jesus Christ His Son, who was born a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power” (Rom.1:3, 4).
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us… quite literally, the Word became flesh and pitched His tent among us, or as we would say in our culture, built a house or bought a condo among us. The Eternal God took up residence in a human body within the confines of human history. The One, who was of the same stuff as God, the Father, became the same stuff as us. What do you think it was like to be a disciple of Jesus? What do you think you would see if you looked at him? Do you think you’d be blinded by that halo around his head? Do you think you’d see him doing card tricks around the supper table at night? Do you think you’d see someone with boundless energy, who never tired, never slept, never cried, and never raised his voice? I don’t think so, that’s not the impression I get when I read the gospel accounts. Jesus was not God masquerading as a human; he was truly human.
In many respects his disciples were in a relationship with a very ordinary man. On the other hand John reported and we beheld his glory as of the Only Begotten of the Father full of grace and truth. By his actions, by his character and by the words that he spoke they came to believe that he was God in human flesh. John spoke of Jesus this way, in another letter he wrote: That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched-this we proclaim to you concerning the Word of Life (1 John 1:1).
Isn’t that fascinating? God wrapped Himself in the ordinariness of human flesh. The disciples were not typically overwhelmed by the glory of Jesus. They were not transfixed in some permanent state of awe. They walked with him, talked with him, got ticked at him, touched him, and ate with him, slept in the same room with him. Yet, in the midst of life they beheld his glory.
And so, the mystery of the incarnation hasn’t been given to us by God “to rivet us into a paralysis of adoration” (Tom Howard) but so that we might experience the reality of God in our flesh, in the midst of the ordinariness of life. The shepherds went back to tending their flocks. The wise men went back to that far away land. We come to the manger once a year to contemplate the baby Jesus and to celebrate his birth. But we must also go back to our everyday lives — back to grind, to the sorrow, to the silence and sleepless nights — and there we must behold his glory, that he is with us and will never leave us.