At Christmas we celebrate the miracle and mystery of God entering into human experience as a child. It’s known as the doctrine of the Incarnation and may be easy to explain, as church doctrines go, but it is not easy to believe! More often than not, priests, pastors and Christian educators tell us to just take it on faith.
But faith is not believing ten impossible things before breakfast! I’d like to assure you that doctrines of the church are not supposed to end questions but rather to open up the possibility of a search for answers that will last a lifetime. Doctrines like the Incarnation are intended to orient our hearts and minds toward the contemplation of something worth spending our spiritual energy on.
So let’s ask some questions about this particular church teaching. Does it make sense that a supreme, all-powerful, eternal being such as we claim God to be would trade His powers for the suffering, sickness, and death of human existence? It’s the opposite of a sensible trade! Who fantasizes about going from riches to rags, after all? What was God thinking?
Of course, questions like that last one have no definitive answer. To know God’s mind is difficult at best. Yet God does not tire of trying to reveal Godself to us! The bible is best read as a history of God’s efforts to communicate with a humanity that keeps misunderstanding the message. God takes delight in us when we ask questions of Scripture, doctrines, or received traditions because it shows we are making an effort to understand what God is trying to tell us.
So the question for today is, why did God come to us as a child?
The Incarnation dares us to imagine that being reliant on others is not something we need to be ashamed of.
For God-as-Child, Weakness is Strength
When Jesus was born, it was common for people to think of gods as having human form. Think of all those Greek and Roman statues of Zeus, Athena and that crowd. They looked like human beings – ripped and impossibly beautiful, but in the form of men and women, nonetheless.
The radical claim of the Incarnation is that God as the Christ child did not just appear to be human, but actually was fully human without losing His divine nature. No Roman or Greek god worth his salt would ever descend to the muck of human existence! The gods looked down on humanity and humans never imagined they could have equality with the gods.
But that was and remains the Christian claim – that God was willing to become weak for our sake, as weak and dependent on others for His survival as a human child. Such a claim flips our ideas about strength and weakness completely upside down. When an all-powerful Being willingly and joyfully becomes helpless as a newborn, we must ask ourselves: what is so wonderful about weakness that God would embrace it so?
The doctrine of the Incarnation invites us to rethink our faith in self-reliance and independence as ultimate values. Perhaps by contemplating the image of God-as-Child we are being gently encouraged to recognize that being weak, needy and reliant on our family, friends, and community is not a weakness but a strength.
The Love of a Child
After all, no one is complete unto themselves, not even God, it seems. Now that’s hard to believe! But what else can it mean that God came to us as a child except that He needed to be loved by a human family more than He needed to hold on to His power?
Maybe God came as a child because it was the best way to show what God’s love for us is like. I am a mother and grandmother with years of experience teaching preschoolers at church and as a Montessori teacher, so what I tell you now I can testify to from personal experience: Children are capable of the closest thing to perfect love that we find on Earth.
The love of a child is unconditional, nonjudgmental and relentlessly forgiving. You might say well, okay, but that’s because they couldn’t survive without adults so their “love” is a survival strategy. And you would be right as long as you expanded your assessment to include adults, because love is a survival strategy for us all.
Think of it this way: that God loves us is not news. Nor is the commandment to love God with all our hearts, minds, and strength. But this love is not between a self-sufficient God and a self-reliant humanity. It is a love between a frail, needy people and the God in whose image we have been made. And apparently that image is one of a helpless child.
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Weakness is What Makes Love Possible
Without love and the intimate connections it makes possible, we would all wither and die from loneliness. The only reason we don’t recognize this truth is that unlike children, we can pretend to be independent and autonomous. Children have not yet perfected the art of such perfect denial.
So the Incarnation invites us to consider that helplessness is an essential part of what it means to be divine and completely necessary to be fully human. Incarnation dares us to
imagine that being reliant on others is not something we need to be ashamed of.
Meditating on the following two questions raised by the doctrine of the Incarnation will change the way you think about yourself, your relationships, and where God is present in your life:
- When do I feel least lonely and closest to others: When I rely on myself or when I accept help from family and friends?
- How does it make me feel to know that God loves me with the unconditional love of a child?
Love is incomplete until it rests in the object of its desire. For the God of love who came to us as a little child, we are the ones He seeks. As you look for evidence of this in your life, may the reality of God’s love for you enliven your faith and renew your relationships now and always.