The title of this post is somewhat offensive. It’s supposed to be. The incarnation is simultaneously profane and profound. Christmas is the time Christians remember that God the Son took on human flesh. Well, that sounds nice and sterile, doesn’t it? As we say here in the South: “That’ll preach!” It is an interesting phrase; but these days it does not have the pathos it used to. The idea of God becoming a human being was sheer blasphemy to the first century Jew. The English term flesh is rather benign, and so when Christians hear that God took on human flesh there is often a ho-hum attitude.
But in my classes I take a different approach to the incarnation. I ask students if they have ever eaten “chili con carne,” asking them what that is exactly. Of course, it is chili with meat. Then the follow-up question: “Then what do you think the incarnation might be?” Of course, it refers to God becoming flesh. A deity became meat, bone, sinews, organs. It is a kind of mnemonic device students can use to remember the term and its definition. But I always get strange looks and questions about this. It seems profane to put the incarnation this way, and I am aware that the English word meat is not a perfect equivalent to the Latin caro/carn- (though the Spanish carne and English meat are pretty close). Yet I believe it is important to help people recognize the original offense of the incarnation.
From the pages of the Bible we learn that God is not a man. He is not made of flesh and blood. He has no need of sleep. He does not puzzle over things. He does not need education or advice. He does not have fear or dread. He does not need nourishment. The epitome of the word almighty, God is simply untouchable. He is infinite.
Theologically, the Christian Church would say that God is wholly other. He is perpetual. He is omnipresent, omnipresent, and omniscient. But perhaps most importantly, God is holy. He has nothing to do with sin. If and when he makes his appearance, no one can look at him directly and live. Even angels cover their faces in his presence.
The birth of Christ actually put limits on the unlimited. The God of all creation (specifically the second member of the Trinity) was born to a teenage girl in a cave-like stable. Ultimate royalty, the holy God was wrapped in poor swaddling clothes. Wrapped snugly, keeping his arms from flailing about, held in a mother’s embrace, being rocked when he cried, the creator of the world became a human. Not just a human, but the most vulnerable child in need of, well…everything! A completely independent God had become utterly dependent. God had become flesh, organs, a starving stomach, weepy eyes, rooting mouth, and on occasion would produce a foul odor! This scandal is not easy to accept to those who had held so strongly to Old Testament theology. If we are honest, it may not be easy for us to accept either.