Word Became Flesh: Winter 2020
In a word association game about this season, I’m going to guess “embodiment” isn’t likely to come up. I say “Advent,” you say. . . Wreath? Candles? Calendar? I say Christmas, you say. . . Tree? Manger? Tradition? If we played that game for a very long time, I think there’s a pretty good chance that “embodiment” wouldn’t ever come up.
And while that’s understandable, the truth is that this season of the church year—Advent and Christmas—are celebrations of embodiment. As the Gospel of John tells it: “The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”
The word became flesh. God became a human being. The eternal entered the temporal. Or, in the words of the Nicene Creed: “he came down from heaven . . . became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.”
He became incarnate. He put on flesh. He was embodied.
It is true that many of us have a complicated and sometimes distorted view of our bodies. But, in terms of official Christian teaching, the church has always celebrated and affirmed the fact that we are embodied. How could it be otherwise? God made us, told us that all of creation was good, and—as if to put an exclamation point on it—Jesus joined us in our human form to save us, body and soul, from sin and death.
So this time of year is, appropriately, a time to reflect on embodiment.
And, the truth is that this entire year has—in its own unwelcome way—been a reminder of the fact that we are embodied. Being embodied, after all, means that we live in a particular body, at a particular time, and that we know ourselves and others through particular spaces our bodies occupy. This year, many of those places have been off limits. Our workplaces. Restaurants. Sporting events. And yes, church.
It’s unclear how quickly we’ll be back to “life as it used to be.” And that means that—during a time of year that is filled with traditions associated with celebrations in specific places that are known and loved by us—most of us will be approaching this season differently. In practical terms, what that means is that we’ll likely be home—as in, in our homes—for more of Christmas than during a typical year.
So, rather than bemoan this fact, we’re embracing it, and using “Home for Christmas” as our theme for this season of embodiment. Our prayer is that we can recognize that each of us is called, in the words of poet Jeannette Lindholm, “to embody God’s compassion . . . to bring healing to the earth, while we watch with joy and wonder for the promised Savior’s birth.”
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