Week 4: The Word Made Flesh - Reflections on the Incarnation
This week, the Rev. Dr. Russell J. Levenson, Jr. shares on the Word Made Flesh and reflects on what the power of the Incarnation meant for Mary and what it can mean for us.
Over the last few weeks, you have seen some of the key concepts of our Christian story. Alex spoke on the creation. Yet, we know from Suse’s teaching that no sooner had God, out of the abundance of His love, birthed creation into being, those first beings betrayed our Lord’s trust and brought sin into the picture.
Marty spoke of the providence of God. And toward that end, we must know that despite human rebellion–despite our rebellion–God still wants to be in relationship with us and still is working out His purposes. As the author of Hebrews puts it, “The will of God is, that all men be saved. This is his will, by way of distinction and preeminence. Jesus came to do this will. He came as the Savior, as the Savior of all men. He came as the good Shepherd, to seek and save that which was lost.” (10:9)
This is how we can see this next step in our lesson is really, in fact, building upon the previous step: God made us (Creation), we sinned against God (The Fall), but God's desire–God’s working in the world–brings all men and women back into relationship (God’s Providence).
The climax to the story, of course, comes with the Incarnation, the world-changing event in which the Creator entered His Creation, in which He came near and revealed Himself in Jesus. In the Incarnation, He embraced our humanity and showed us how to live it. Yet, of course, there would be no incarnation, if it were not for Mary.
Read the full text of Luke 1:26-38.
At first glance, it appears as though Mary has four choices at this invitation. She could say, "I cannot accept the invitation," "I will not accept the invitation," "I will accept with a few provisos," or simply, "I accept." "I can't," "I won't," "I will with some selected fringe benefits," or "I will."
Now under "I can't," most could agree with Mary's reasons. "I can't because I am pledged to be married and he is going to think I have been sleeping around, because my parents and community will disown me, because I don't want that responsibility." Yet, of course, if the King of the Universe comes and says He can do something through you, any "I can't" really means "I won't."
And so "can't" is usually an excuse for "won't," which is Mary's second option. She could have just flatly denied the opportunity to be, in her words from Luke’s Gospel, "The Lord's servant," and that would have been far more honest than saying "I can't."
Thirdly, she could have said, "I will, with a few conditions." For instance, she might have said, "I will do this if you make sure my family and I are provided for all the days of my life; that this child whom you will conceive in me will never face any harm; that others won't mock me and will in fact revere me." Yet again, Mary does none of these things.
She could have said, "I can't," (which would have been a lie); "I won't," (which would have been disobedience); or "I will, but..." (which would have been playing God); but instead, she chose to say, "Yes," and that made all the difference for her, for you and for me.
This is Mary's real story to us–that she was, much like you or me, just a regular young girl facing problems, issues, and day-to-day life much like we do–and it was this person in whom God chose to work out the salvation of the world.
The Incarnation is an amazing story because it is the continuation of God’s love story for us.
As Max Lucado notes “...No one could ever dream a person as incredible as He is. The idea that a virgin would be selected by God to bear Himself...the notion that God would don a scalp and toes and two eyes...the thought that the King of the universe would sneeze and burp and get bit by mosquitoes...It’s too incredible...But God did...what we wouldn’t dare dream....He did what we couldn’t imagine. He became man so we could trust Him. He became a sacrifice so we could know Him. And He defeated death do we could follow Him.” Indeed, Mary’s Christmas is amazing.
The Incarnation is an awful story because it also reveals the depths of our depravity and the seriousness of sin.
This is the road into life that was provided to Love incarnate–for there was no room in the inn. Emmanuel, God with us, breathed His first in the straw of the oxen’s crib, and we need to hold in our minds that looming over that crib was the shadow of a Cross. For Jesus came not as a model or as the high-water mark of humanity, but as a sacrifice–as one who would take upon Himself the sins of the whole world.
There is a well–known painting by Holman Hunt, the realist who died in 1910. The painting shows Jesus stretching in the carpentry shop, but cast upon the far wall of the shop is His shadow–forming a cross.
We know how the story turns out. This One whom Mary delivered would, in fact, one day deliver her. Poet Lucy Shaw writes that perhaps Mary, still exhausted from delivery, pondered these words as she cradled her new baby in her arms,
“...blind in my womb to know my darkness ended,
brought to this birth
for me to be new-born,
And for Him to see me mended
I must see Him torn.”
Sir Oliver Lodge, in his book Man and the Universe, writes, “The Christian idea of God is not that of a being outside the universe, above its struggles and advances, looking on and taking no part in the process solely exalted, beneficent, self-determined, and complete; no it is also that of a God who loves, who yearns, who suffers...This is the truth which has been reverberating down the ages ever since; it has been the hidden inspiration of [every] saint – a God that could understand, that could suffer, that could sympathies, that had felt the extremity of human anguish,
“…the agony of bereavement, had submitted even to the brutal hopeless torture of the innocent...This is the extraordinary conception of [the Christian’s] conception of God...”
Indeed, the Incarnation story is awful.
Yet, perhaps above all, the Incarnation is wonderful!
It is filled with wonder because in the end, the Incarnation–Mary’s story, really– tells us that God chooses to meet humanities worst with His best. Our sin could have stopped Him from coming near to us, but because of His love, our sin was the reason He came. Here’s the kicker–the Incarnation is wonderful because it reminds us that Mary’s story can be our story as well, if we are willing to say “yes” to God.
The wonder of the incarnation is that Mary had the courage to forego herself, her needs, her reputation and her future, so that she could be used for God’s coming near to His Creation, and come to know the treasure above all treasures.
There is nothing more serious or sincere than God’s love for us in the person of Christ Jesus. It was this love that drew these words out of Paul when he wrote to the Church in Philippi, “I consider everything a loss (rubbish)... compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus as my Lord for whose sake I have lost all things.”
The real truth of Mary’s “yes”–the real message of her “affirmative nod” to Gabriel–is that it was not the womb in her belly that makes the story miraculous and wonderful, but the womb of her heart. It was here that the “yes” of Mary gave birth, yet again, to God’s “yes” to humankind. Because of Mary’s favor with God, because of Mary’s "Yes," we could know of God’s favor toward us.
And so, when Mary said yes, what bubbled out of her was this beautiful song:
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.”
As God came to Mary, He comes to you and invites us to open your heart and allow it to be the birthplace of the living Christ in yet one more place–the core of your being. Indeed, God has looked upon His lowly servants and bestowed upon each of us gifts for the taking–grace, mercy, love, peace and life everlasting.
God came down to earth in the Incarnation. He took on flesh and He has dwelt among us. He did not see our sin and brokenness as a reason to avoid it: it was in fact for this reason He came. May we, as Mary and Joseph and millions upon millions have done since, answer as they have before us, “Lord, I am your servant... may it be to me as you have said.” May we say, with all that we are, “Yes. Yes... My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.”
Questions for Reflection
- In the Incarnation, the Son of God took on human flesh fully and completely. That which was perfect, holy and good, embracing that which was beautiful but broken and full of sin. What does God’s willingness to ‘come near’ in this way say about how He views us? What does it say about God’s character?
- If God saw fit to take on human flesh, to eat, drink, live, sleep and die as one of us, what does it say about our ideas that some things are ‘spiritual,’ but some things are ‘secular’? Why might this be forced distinction?
- What does the act of Incarnation, taking place through Mary’s womb, say about how God sees women and the act of childbearing?
- If in the Incarnation, God came to meet us where we are. Where do you need God to meet you where you are today? What holds you back from believing He can do this?
 Max Lucado, And The Angels Were Silent (Portland: Multnomah, 1992), 101.
 Sir Oliver Lodge, Man and The Universe (London: Methuen & Co, 1908), pp. 318-319.
 Philippians 3:8.