I have always been attracted to paradoxes, ideas that exist in a state of tension. “Everything in moderation, including moderation.” “You have to spend money to make money.” “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” “The only thing I know for sure is that I know nothing.” “Nobody goes to the restaurant anymore; it's too crowded.”
There are a number of paradoxes in our Christian faith as well. “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.” “If you want to be the greatest, you must be the servant of all.” “All who humble themselves will be exalted.” The greatest paradox of the faith, as far as I’m concerned, is this: “The Word became flesh and lived among us…”
“The Word became flesh” pulls us in two opposite directions theologically. On the one hand, Scripture consistently presents God as above and beyond, as Holy and Other, as without peer or equal. Psalm 113:5-6 asks, “Who is like the Lord our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?” Jeremiah 10:6 declares, “There is none like you, O Lord; you are great, and your name is great in might. Who would not fear you, O King of the nations?” Isaiah 55:9 affirms, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
And yet the New Testament writers understood that in Jesus of Nazareth, God had entered into our world in human form: “In him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily…” is one way Paul summarized the incarnation. The Hebrew writer believed that Jesus “is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being.” In John’s gospel, Jesus claimed, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”
The idea that God is transcendently above and beyond, and yet also entered our world and lived as a human is a great paradox. Perhaps it strikes you like one of M.C. Escher’s impossible drawings.
Yet the incarnation is vitally important for us as Christians, for at least two reasons: 1) The incarnation affirms that God is with us. In our humanity. In our struggles. In our sufferings. Jesus understands temptation. Jesus understands weariness and hunger, betrayal and loss. That the God of all has entered into our struggles matters. A lot! Dietrich Bonhoeffer summarized this by saying, “Only a suffering God can help.” 2) The incarnation also affirms that God is for us. God put on our human flesh, tasted of our sorrows, and did not remain aloof and distant from us. In Jesus, we have a high priest who sympathizes with our weaknesses and can intercede on our behalf before the throne of God. Perhaps most profoundly, “While we were still sinners Christ died for us.”
God is high and exalted. God came near in Jesus Christ. A great paradox? Absolutely. And an incomparable work of grace!
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