Published on December 26, 2011
The incarnation of Christ makes serious claims on each and every one of us. For those who have not committed their lives to him, they are under the most authoritative moral obligation to do so. And for those who have committed their lives to him in faith and repentance, they are under the most authoritative moral obligation to represent him in this world.
At first this doesn’t make most Christians very uneasy. If God is love, it follows that to live and represent Him we only need to be a loving people. Often we take this to mean, and import into our very existence, that we should be nicer than most, give of our belongings when asked, and categorize all that we have a “blessing”. And these things we can do, right? After all, we are Christians.
But the incarnation has confronted me in my hiding. Christ has tracked me down in the dark “Christian” corners of my life and has called me out. Instead of being a light in dark places, the Incarnation is showing me that I have often been a dark person in enlightened places. The outside of my cup is clean, while the inside is quite disgusting. I am in desperate need of redemptive sanctification. I need a Christological paradigm shift.
The fact that Christ loves means very little unless we indicate the world as the direct object of his love. And the fact that Christ “lived” means very little unless we add the prepositional phrase “among us”. We should always remember that God, in Christ, communicates his love to the world by dwelling in and with the world. I am afraid that many of us have adopted the verbs but have conveniently left out their objects. In so doing, we have robbed Christmas of its power, significance and its call.
The incarnation, by its very nature, demands, not only that we should be loving and living, but that we should be loving “someone” and living “among others”. John 15 is quite explicit here. Simply being a loving person does not distinguish Christians from non-Christians. Christian love is very different from worldly love, just as light is antithetical to darkness. Salt is distinct from that which is not salt. Love’s object makes all the distinctive difference to the world.
Who we love and where we live identifies us as a distinct people – a holy nation (or culture!). These things separate us as “otherly” and “unworldly”. We hold these truths with gratitude knowing that, had the incarnation not happened, and had Christ decided not to show us mercy (something that he was free to do without any moral or divine blemish whatsoever), we would not be Christians. We would not have church, hymns, meaningful small groups, or prayers. Our culture would not be holy. I would not be writing this article. Don’t get it twisted – it is all of grace.
Christmas humbles us.
Understood this way, Christmas is almost like a military draft, calling us, as it were, across enemy lines. The incarnation of Christ calls us to life among those who make the outside of our cup physically and emotionally dirty; all the while the One who lives in us makes the inside of our cup spiritually clean. The irony alone should shock us, and even convict us. We have stayed long enough among those who do not inconvenience us, that have the same moral idiosyncrasies as we do, and who will not demand more of us than what is socially acceptable.
But Christ came to the world, fasted in the dessert, sat at the well, sweat blood in the garden, and shed blood on the Cross.
Christmas brings us the gift of life through death. We are not in heaven yet. And we should cease trying to drag it down. It will be given soon enough. Becoming a Christian does not mean that we are delivered out of the world. Christian liberty is not about being free from the moral, social, emotional and physical inconveniences of those who have no moral compass, little social skills, who are on multiple psychiatric medications, and who would rather harm us than hug us. Liberty is found by losing one’s life. It is our mark to love the unlovable, to give to those who steal, and to embrace those who would rather us dead.
Christmas reminds us that Jesus saves sinners. We should know this. It is our testimony. He died for us when we wanted him dead.
Like wounds on our body receive the most cellular attention, so should wounds in our society receive the most Christian attention. Wounded dogs, however, bite. Because of the incarnation, we dare not draw back our hand. When we lose life, others gain it (2 Cor 4:12). The incarnation reminds us that suffering is a gift from God (Phil 1:29). When we lose we gain. When we give, we receive. And as Bonheoffer once said, our poverty is the proof of our freedom. This turns our Christmas list upside-down. It shifts our holiday paradigm. It makes us not the same.
Christmas changes everything. It makes red our color, Christ our treasure, and heaven our long-awaited hope. Just as the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, so should we, armed with the Word, live among the world that Christ means to save. Merry Christmas, Holy Culture.
You can learn more about Scott Moore here.