Monday, December 17, 2007

The Messy Incarnation

Phil 2:5-11:
You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had,
who though he existed in the form of God
did not regard equality with God
as something to be grasped,

but emptied himself
by taking on the form of a slave,
by looking like other men,
and by sharing in human nature.

He humbled himself,
by becoming obedient to the point of death
– even death on a cross!

As a result God exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,

so that at the name of Jesus
every knee will bow
– in heaven and on earth and under the earth –

and every tongue confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord
to the glory of God the Father.

I don't think our finite human minds can really grasp the magnitude of the Incarnation.

This passage in Philippians could be considered the first "Christmas carol" - a hymn praising God for the incarnation. Paul uses it to exhort the Philippians to humble service toward each other. But it is instructive as a testimony of the dramatic miracle of the Incarnation.

For Jesus Christ - in whom dwelt all the fullness of Deity (Col. 2:9) - to become human flesh was, according to Paul in this passage, an emptying, a humbling, a refusal to grasp something that was fully His and to take on instead something that was utterly other.

Of course He was totally without sin - but He still took on our flesh, walked among us, endured temptation, and was surrounded by the sin that a holy God could not look upon. He remained pure, but was surrounded by impurity.

The only illustration I've ever experienced that even begins to help me wrap my mind around this is not a pretty picture. Years ago, as part of a community group service project, I was helping to clean a run-down house - a shack, really. My job was to clean the sink. When I reached my hand in to drain the water that was sitting in there, I realized that the piled-up dishes had collected quite a mass of cockroaches. There was simply no way to clean that sink without cleaning those dishes, and no way to do that without going through the cockroaches.

I was nauseated and fearful (bugs are a phobia for me). I sat and stared at that sink for I don't know how long, then prayed. I didn't want to embarass the homeowner, but I also didn't want to put my hand in there! Of course there were no gloves to be found, and my choices were incredibly limited. Tearfully I reached my hand in to quickly drain the sink, and with my other hand turned on the hot water to hopefully drown the ones on top and wash them down the drain.

As I choked back screams, praying all the time, God spoke to me so clearly: If you think this is bad, imagine yourself becoming one of those cockroaches in order to help them. Now imagine my holiness being surrounded by sin. Imagine me walking the earth, humbling myself - because there was no other way.

Suddenly, my fear and nausea turned to worship as I grasped just a glimpse of what it meant for the Word to become flesh and dwell among us. I can't imagine becoming a cockroach - but He became human. And remained totally glorious.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel!
Hark! The herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn king

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