Christmas is the celebration of the Incarnation.
Christmas says that Jesus became a human; a baby who went through the terrible twos, puberty, the teen years and a carpenter’s life.
In the words of what might be my favourite song about incarnation, “What if God was one of us?”
The song is a terribly catchy, chart-topping 1990s pop number from singer Joan Osborne and songwriter Eric Bazilian. It still gets airplay today: I heard it last week in one of the few stores not inundating us with run-of-the-mill Christmas music.
The song is not a theological analysis.
It queries what we might feel and wonder if God truly became one of us. Would he be, the refrain asks, “Just a slob like one of us? Just a stranger on the bus?”
The incarnate God as a slob? Seems perilously near sacrilege. The Lord, the Creator of all the universe, the Alpha and the Omega. A slob? Riding a bus? Oh, the humanity!
One of the questions asked in the song is, “If God had a face, what would it look like?” An unkempt, small-town working man, sweating in the heat and always dusty from walking everywhere. A brown-skinned man.
My first observation on the incarnation is that how Jesus is imagined shapes everything afterwards. Show Jesus as a brown-skinned Jewish-Palestinian and one is more historically accurate than earlier images, albeit highly political—especially right now.
My second observation is that God chose to be human for three full decades. In Jesus we see an example of what the holy life lived by the holiest of humans/God can be. Or, at least, we see the three years of his ministry.
That means the Apostle’s Creed is faulty. Look: “...Conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate...” The creed skips right past the life of Jesus, the cornerstone of Anabaptist praxis.
The Black Christ by Kelly Brown Douglas repeatedly insists that interpretations of Christianity focused on salvation or heaven, or that ignore Jesus’s ministry, are grounds for versions of Christ that don’t bring full liberation.
Anabaptist theologians’ attention to practical theology includes peace and justice—oppressions and violence being part of the human life after all.
God’s incarnated life was not just start and finish; it was about the fuller journey as a human.
Therefore, my final observation is really a question: What if, in becoming a human, God also had things to learn? Maybe that’s why the old and new testaments read so differently. Maybe being human changed a somewhat remote, judgmental God into a grace-filled, loving and self-emptying God.
Back to that song. Please, don’t focus on the slob part. What if God was one of us?
Let’s socially position the Lord. Jesus is a refugee (the flight to Egypt), working-class, of dubious parentage (“Um, a virgin birth? Really?” the village asks), with little education, purporting to be a teacher, purporting to be more than a teacher, questioning authority, hanging out with other questionable people.
That is a load of socially low statuses for the God-of-all-Creation-become-human to experience.
The years I have lived on this earth have been a process of growth (or so I hope). My experiences—ups and downs, illnesses and surgeries, lost jobs, lost loves, joys ever-fleeting—have changed me.
Maybe being human changed God, too?
If Jesus was socially positioned as just described, if God-incarnate was one of us, maybe God learned about these facets of being human.
Christmas begins incarnation.
Randy Haluza-DeLay lives in Toronto and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.