Some days, the world seems pretty bleak. Our bodies ache. War and poverty prevail. Natural disasters abound. Just when we begin to get a little piece of mind, another tragedy strikes.
If we’re not careful, we can find ourselves living perpetually in hope of an escape. We trod through the days; we fulfill our duties. But we’re distracted. Our eyes are always scanning the horizon, searching for the nearest exit, wondering when we’ll have the opportunity to finally check out and be done with this miserable planet.
At Christmas, we celebrate the fact that the God of Hope entered into all this mess. “God came down to earth”, we say, echoing Jesus’ own description of his mission.
For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. (John 6:38)
No one has ascended into heaven except him who descended from heaven—the Son of Man. (John 3:13)
Indeed, Christmas is a holiday of hope for all who relate to this sentiment. However, it may not be hopeful in quite the way you’d expect.
A question we must ask in response to Jesus’ descension is this: in what way did Jesus come down? It’s important to ask this question because how we answer it will shape the kind of hope we yearn for when the days get long.
In my experience, I tend to associate a significant part of Jesus’ “coming down” with him becoming human. That is, I assume one way he descended was through the act of becoming physical.
This assumption carries with it a deeper assumption, which is that the physical world is somehow unworthy of a holy, perfect, and morally spotless God.
But these assumptions conflict with the arc of the Biblical story, which begins and ends with a perfectly good, God-infused, physical world. (Gen 1-2; Rev. 21-22)
The more accurate, and inspiring, truth of scripture is this: the Son of God’s act of becoming physical was a lateral, not a downward, move. His physicality wasn’t a demotion.
This is a crucial, and perhaps foreign, idea. Too often, we assume that God’s becoming flesh was an act of self-degradation on his part.
But it wasn’t. The physical world is in no way inferior to God. After all, God’s plan from the beginning was to create physical, material, sneezing and sweating, running and resting creatures infused with his holy energy, animated by his divine light.
If this is the case, then in what ways did Jesus come down?
Jesus came down in the sense that he set aside all the authority and rights that come with being Creator of the Universe and limited himself to the authority and rights of an infant refugee. He came down like a king coming down from his throne to adopt the status of a slave.
Jesus came down in the sense that he entered a world of corruption, hatred, lust, and greed. He entered a world that was morally unworthy of him. He came down like a concerned father coming down to a crack house to rescue his addicted daughter.
But Jesus did not come down in the sense of simply becoming physical.
On the contrary, the perfect life of the embodied Son of God reveals the divine potential of flesh and blood.
The problem with our world is not its physicality. The problem is that we’ve chosen to manage our physicality contrary to God’s good design, thereby introducing death and all its constituents into the system.
Our world is bleak, but it doesn’t have to be this way. And the good news of Christmas is that in the future, it won’t be this way.
Illness surrounds us now, but healing will come.
War surrounds us now, put peace will come.
Hatred surrounds us now, but love will come.
Healing, peace, and love will come into our world. A physical world.
How will they come? Emmanuel. God with us. Jesus in the flesh. Glorified, ascended he will come, heralding the dawn of a new age where all will be well.
So this Christmas, yearn for Emmanuel, not escape. Pray for God to come, not for us to leave. Allow your gaze to be lifted beyond the bleak to the enchanted. Sense the divine potential of your frail and failing limbs. Bask in the extravagance of the physical world around you.
Jesus comes to renew it all. To invite you into resurrected, glorified physicality with him. Not to remove you from it.