“And the Word became flesh . . .”

He moves into the neighborhood.

Shawn Brace
“And the Word became flesh . . .”

I often take the incarnation of Jesus for granted, yet it’s perhaps the most profound act in universal history. That the infinite God, almighty and everlasting, took on human flesh, became a helpless babe, and limited Himself to our frail and finite condition—it’s truly a thought that’s beyond comprehension and demands our highest and humblest praise.

Among other things, it communicates the high value God places upon humanity. He deemed us worthy enough to take on our condition in order to redeem us. It tells us that God is, as I like to say, the universe’s biggest humanist. He believes in humanity, seeing what we can become by His grace.

It also shows us the relational heart of God. He’s not content with keeping us at a distance, but longs to be with us. It also means that salvation isn’t something even God could accomplish from a distance. He couldn’t send a committee, an email, or a handbill. He couldn’t preach our salvation into existence. He had to take on our condition.

My favorite reflection on this stupendous act comes from John, who declared that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Even more incisively, I love how The Message renders this: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.”1

The God of Scripture is someone who moves into the neighborhood. He places Himself right at the center of the human experience, drawing close to us in our sin and filth, instead of keeping us at arm’s length. This posture is at odds with how we normally operate. We often run away from people who are different from us; we remove ourselves from the presence of those whose lives are sinful and unrighteous.

But not God.

Embodying the Incarnation

The incarnation of Jesus should, of course, profoundly shape the way we live. If we’re going to be people who celebrate the Incarnation, we should also be people who embody it.

Jesus Himself, later in John, told His disciples that “as the Father has sent Me, I also send you” (John 20:21). We’re thus called to draw close to people, to see their inherent value and worth, and move toward them rather than away from them.

We’re called to “move into the neighborhood” ourselves, instead of trying to separate ourselves from the sullied and sinful. We can’t truly impact people from a distance. Just as Jesus couldn’t merely announce salvation via proclamation but had to perform an embodied act to save us, so we too must embody the gospel if others are going to fully encounter the truth about God’s saving love.

Indeed, as Ellen White says: “As Christ is the channel for the revelation of the Father, so we are to be the channel for the revelation of Christ. While our Saviour is the great source of illumination, forget not, O Christian, that He is revealed through humanity. God’s blessings are bestowed through human instrumentality. Christ Himself came to the world as the Son of man. Humanity, united to the divine nature, must touch humanity.”2

So let us truly be people of the Incarnation.

1 From The Message, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress, represented by Tyndale House Publishers, a division of Tyndale House Ministries. All rights reserved.

2 Ellen G. White, Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1956), p. 40.

Shawn Brace

Shawn Brace is a pastor and author in Bangor, Maine, whose most recent book, The Table I Long For (Signs Publishing), details his and his church’s recent journey into a mission-centered life. He is also a D.Phil. student at the University of Oxford, researching nineteenth-century American Christianity.