We hear the word “incarnational” quite a bit these days, and I think that’s a good thing. We need to center our lives, our activities, and our witness around that central doctrine of Christianity.
I’m in the Ft. Worth area visiting my daughter, son-in-law, and three granddaughters. I’ve been reading the book of Hebrews today. The epistle from the lectionary for Christmas this year is Hebrews 1:1-12. The prologue to the book of Hebrews is indeed an exceptional statement of the incarnation as is the gospel lesson for Christmas: John 1:1-14.
But as I continued reading through the book, I was constantly convicted by the contrast with what the author of Hebrews teaches about how one should live in view of what Jesus did and how we actually do live. What is our testimony to the world as Christians?
We’re concerned with the statement of the gospel that is presented through lights and manger scenes. We are excited about the family scenes that occur around Christmas trees around the country. We become angry when anyone tries to detract from these symbols of the season.
And don’t get me wrong. I believe there is great value in bringing family together. I am happy to see that there will be rituals and symbols. I will be at a Christmas Eve service, and I will make sure to experience the Eucharist either tonight or tomorrow. I will join my wife and another two generations of our family around a tree and we will enjoy fellowship and giving to one another.
But when you look at Hebrews 1 and John 1 you see something more. “The Word became flash,” or I might paraphrase, “The message took on human form” (John 1:14). God has spoken to us through his Son (Hebrews 1:2). The lectionary passage deals with how Jesus is much superior to the angels, but if we read on, we hear that Jesus, the “pioneer (or originator) of [our] salvation” is perfected through suffering (Hebrews 2:10) and “tastes death on behalf of everyone” (Hebrews 2:9).
But it doesn’t stop there. It turns out that we ourselves are supposed to be prepared to suffer, a point which is made starting in Hebrews 10:19ff. Chapter 11, which we often read in isolation, builds on this theme by giving these examples of faith—examples for us of how we ought to be living and presenting our witness.
You see, that baby in a manger isn’t just a cute story or a beautiful scene. He’s the king of the universe. It’s joy to the world that he came, but he’s giving everything. From that moment the path is set. He will live as we do and he will die as we should. He will be like us in every way (Hebrews 2:17), and thus he will be able to sympathize with us (18).
But will we follow that example? Too often we see Christianity as a badge of distinction, a characteristic that makes us better than other people and allows us to become judges. As judges, we make very poor witnesses.
This Christmas season let’s think about what that babe in a manger asks of us. What sort of people should we be considering what we believe Jesus has done for us? How should we relate to those who disagree? How should we relate to those who persecute?
I don’t mean to take away our joy at Christmas. In fact, I think this would increase it. A friend of mine once said that he had found it terribly liberating when he realized he didn’t have to figure out who would be in the kingdom. The judgment wasn’t his job. The witnessing was.
I think if we empty ourselves as did the babe in the manger our joy will increase. If we make our lives be about the incarnation, sacrificial giving of ourselves, our joy will increase. I don’t mean life will be easy or trouble free. The book of Hebrews makes that clear as well. But there is a joy that is set before us (Hebrews 12:2), and what most of are called to endure is considerably less than the cross.
Jesus was and is God’s message to the world, and we are Christ’s body here and now. Let’s determine to live as witnesses to the message we have been given.
Have a blessed Christmas season!
— Henry Neufeld, Publisher