Longing for the Divine

Becoming Flesh and the Incarnated Life

For He who is mighty has done great things for me, And holy is His name

Luke 1:49, NKJV

With His familial nature and divine being, God longs for human fellowship. He is passionate in His pursuit to dwell with us. This is clear in the Book of Exodus, which describes God embarking on a journey with His people through a rough and barren wilderness, communicating His Word and dwelling among them to reveal His glory. The tabernacle where God dwelt was an incarnation—God dwelling in a people (Exodus 25:8). It offers some amazing insights into the message of incarnation, but it represents only a start, as God is committed to dwelling with us more fully.

As John says, “The Word became flesh and dwelt [tabernacled] among us, and we beheld His glory . . . full of grace and truth” (John 1:14, NKJV). John uses the phrase “became flesh” to celebrate the moment when God the Son took our humanity upon Himself. If we take the incarnation story seriously, recognizing that God assumed human limitations, we understand that God has permanently bound Himself to humankind.

The truth of the incarnation helps shape the way we see God. Christians often speak of God in ways that fail to recognize that He was made flesh, taking on all our human frailties. We often speak of God as a distant heavenly being—as far removed from us and therefore incomprehensible—but the incarnation tells us that God is not so far from us, for He has “tabernacled” with us by becoming human, even as we are.

Incarnation suggests that God assumed our weak and fragile flesh. I think of Mary carrying Jesus in her womb and birthing Him through her birth canal. I picture the rupture of water and the blood and tears of birth. I picture Mary swaddling Jesus as a tiny babe with a wobbly head and small, floppy limbs, yet I see divine power revealed in that weakness. Some may be disturbed by the idea of God becoming weak, fallen flesh, yet taking on the weakness of the human condition is not a problem for God. Inside his human body, Jesus had the “fullness of the Godhead,” which exerted a sanctifying influence over anything tainted or less than holy.

In principle, the incarnation expresses God’s goodness, enabling us to understand what God is like. It is God breaking into humanity through Jesus, one so gentle, attractive, and charming. God in the flesh is an expression of His faithfulness and deep love for humanity. I confess that I cannot explain how God took on our humanity, but I celebrate the beauty of that mystery and marvel at its results in the person of Jesus. Though I profess the truth of the incarnation, standing in awe of God’s selfless character, how can it help me cope with the fleshly desires that pull me toward selfishness?

In celebrating the God who became flesh, I do not want to overlook that we are included in the message of the incarnation, which shows how we too might live in an incarnated way. The only way to change humanity’s conformity to the “pattern of the world” (Romans 12:2) is to join the story of God entering into our flesh to completely heal, restore, and redeem it.

To live an incarnated life means having the character of God—His love—dwelling within us. Just as the Holy Spirit came upon Mary with the power of the Most High, God’s Spirit empowers us with divine strength to endure every human hardship. By becoming flesh, God reclaims our humanity as He works in and though it. A truly incarnated way of life is not an escape from this physical world or from the broken and messy situations we often find ourselves in but a way to confront every fallen instinct, to realign according to God’s unselfish love, and to live like Jesus.

The incarnation tells me that God deeply loves humanity and is drawing us—you and me—into divine fellowship. God desires to dwell with us, revealing His divine nature so that we can become image bearers for Him. The incarnation beckons us to behold God loving us as we are, so we can become like He is. The Christmas story celebrates the irrevocable incarnated life: “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him” (Colossians 2:9–10, NKJV). God dwelt among us so that we might behold the beauty of His character in the flesh and become as He is in this world—that’s what incarnation means to me. It is something truly worth celebrating this Christmas!

Craig Ashton Jr.

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