One of my favorite authors and speakers, a Presbyterian minister who a few months ago died at 96 years of age, is Frederick Buechner. In his book “The Hungering Dark,” Buechner’s famous and oft-quoted comment about Christmas is this, “Once we have seen Him in a stable, we can never be sure where He will appear or to what lengths He will go or to what ludicrous depths of self-humiliation He will descend in His wild pursuit of men.”
The incarnation of Yahweh, the divine creator of the universe, into our world as a little bitty baby is so incredibly awkward for we serious minded sophisticated thinkers, that we often relegate all incarnation-talk to that box labeled “unexplainable.” And there we leave it, along with the many other dictums of the Christian faith which simply cannot be logically understood, communicated, or reduced to simplistic edicts of the church. For example, one man dying so that all humanity might have hope for eternal life just defies any logical presentation among modern thinking humans.
The incarnation has a regular appearance in our world and worship: the Christian calendar touts December 25th as the precise day of birth of Jesus, Immanuel, the Savior of humanity. Whereas other unexplainable doctrines of the Christian faith get dumped into tomes of scholarly books by scholarly authors, the incarnation gets front and center attention every year. Often once we have seen him in a stable is adorably presented in the voices and cherubic faces of our children’s choirs singing and wearing ancient near eastern garb to add authenticity!
But Buechner’s quote is much much deeper. If Yahweh, the creator all-powerful God, can appear as a helpless baby in a stable who needs his diapers changed, his food delivered via breast-feeding, and his tiny body being carried to and fro, then isn’t the mind boggled by trying to imagine how else Yahweh might have appeared or be yet still appearing in our world! Can He be seen in a neighborhood homeless bum? How about a convicted criminal just out of jail? An abandoned adorable little puppy? The majestic eagle flying above our heads?
And how about “his wild pursuit of men”? Everybody loves a baby, do we not? And the changes from month to month in a newborn are fantastic to watch! (My nine-month-old granddaughter Aria Marie is a totally different person than when she was only two-months-old!). “For God so loved the world” surely confirms His “wild pursuit” of his creations! And think about “the ludicrous depths of self-humiliation” seen in the all-powerful creator God choosing to be totally 100% dependent on two human beings, a mommy and a daddy, for His life to be sustained! His plan for that tiny baby to spend 30 years getting ready for the ministry which gives my and your life meaning and a purpose for existence! The message of Easter – He is alive, risen from the dead – which gives us hope for eternal life – cannot happen without once we have seen Him in a stable!
And where do we see Him today? In the neighbor whose skin is not my color? In the “Illegal foreigner” walking across our borders in search of new life? In the person who has chosen a lifestyle which I view as sinful? In the knife-wielding rider on the mass transit train? In the homeless drug addled person living in a sleeping bag on a sidewalk? Yes. Yes. Yes. The imago Dei is present and alive in each human being. What will it take before we start believing that every human being bears the image of God?
Incarnation. Once we have seen Him in a stable. “Then God said, ‘let us make human beings in our image, to be like us’” (Gen 1:26 NLT). The Merton Prayer asserts “the desire to please [God] does in fact please [God]” and I cannot think of a more profound way to please God than to acknowledge God’s image in every breathing human being! May the wonderful, delightful Christmas stories we enjoy propel us to contemplate the deep significance of once we have seen Him in a stable!
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