For centuries, people have been remembering the extraordinary event of Jesus’ birth by reenacting living nativities. The image of a living nativity is a wonderful reminder of the word Incarnation, which is central to our Christian faith. It literally means “to en-flesh.” We associate it with Christmas, God taking human form in Jesus of Nazareth over 2,000 years ago. But this word and this image are more meaningful and expansive than even that. Incarnation is also about God in Jesus taking form in us, in Christ-like living.
Incarnation is what Paul described when he said of the faithful in Corinth, “You are a letter of Christ…written…with the Spirit of the living God…on tablets of human hearts” (2 Cor. 3:3, NRSV). Through these believers, Christ became real to others.
Incarnation is also what happened at Pentecost. The same Spirit that was in Jesus became manifest in a community of people set on fire with God’s love for the world. Each new church in the Book of Acts began as a little Pentecost where God’s presence became real, transforming groups of ordinary people.
Incarnation is God’s chosen way to reach the world, not only once upon a time 20 centuries ago but today and every day through people of Christ-like faith and courage. One of my faith heroes, the late Clarence Jordan, talked about “incarnational evangelism.” We see this when communities of faith become demonstration plots, where people live to show that God is real and that God’s kingdom has come near. When that happens, the world takes notice; the world changes.
Incarnation was Jesus’ way as well. Whenever he taught the nearness of the kingdom, he followed the message with an amazing demonstration of the availability of God in someone’s life. The same, he showed, is possible to us all, by faith. Jesus was always showing us what he meant; he was forever turning his words into reality.
Go and do likewise. Seek to incarnate the love of God. Hear what God says, and do what you hear. Pray to become God’s answer to the needs of others.
Stephen D. Bryant is the Publisher of The Upper Room.
This article also appears in the Winter 2018 Fellowship Focus newsletter for friends and donors of The Upper Room. Click the below image to view the complete newsletter:
"God comes to the woman who feels in exile in her own marriage. To the man who grieves the loss of life dreams. To the child who lives on the street. To the parents who struggle to feed and clothe their children. To the one whose loneliness or depression intensifies every Christmas." Click to watch video.