celebrating the incarnation

This Christmas/Advent will we let the incarnation transform us? (montage: J Fowler)

…Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.”  -Isaiah 9:5-7

Christmastime is a fascinating season when the story of Jesus’ birth slams head on into popular culture. It is one of the few times during the year when songs about Jesus are piped into stores and restaurants. Pop stars worship Him. His praises reverberate through the airwaves. Word of His coming kingdom and our longing for a world reconciled is openly expressed (“peace on earth…goodwill to men…”). Nativity scenes make there way into places where portrayals of Jesus would be a controversy any other time (and sometimes even now they still are a controversy).

Unfortunately though, like much of our Christianity year-round, our perception of Jesus during the Advent/Christmas season is mild, tamed, sentimental, is nicely watered down into greeting cards and largely co-opted for other purposes or outright replaced by religious substitutes. But the reality of the incarnation is an earth-shattering shift in human history. Can we dare to accept that our Creator became one of us and that he entered fully into our weakness-our humanity- that we could share in His divine nature through the enacting of His covenant promises (2 Peter 1:4)?

Jesus birth is the single most significant event of human history– will we let His incarnation transform our lives? Will we free His story from the sappy, sentimental piety and man-made traditions that obscure the real meaning and power of His coming? Can we accept that His first coming as a helpless baby also means He will come again to fulfill His purposes as Messiah and take His position as the king of kings in space and time? Can we begin to really comprehend the Christmas story and it’s profound implications? The seed of an eternal kingdom has been planted and will change all things (Daniel 7:13-14).

The way we tell a story changes our understanding of it- and it is the storytellers- the artists, musicians, filmmakers, poets, authors, and the other creatives who influence the most how a story is told. It was a long line of storytellers who transformed St. Nicholas into Santa Claus and who have popularized three wise men showing up at the stable where Jesus was born (but they actually came later according to the Biblical account and there could have been more than three magi). So let us listen to those who challenge our collective imagination, like Jackson Browne who sings of the ‘Rebel Jesus’ and reminds us that if we are to believe in and celebrate GOD’s incarnation we must also live in-step with the ‘upside-down’ kingdom of the King who became a servant to us all.

“The streets are filled with laughter and light
And the music of the season
And the merchants’ windows are all bright
With the faces of the children
And the families hurrying to their homes
As the sky darkens and freezes
Will be gathering around the hearths and tables
Giving thanks for all God’s graces
And the birth of the rebel Jesus

They call him by the “Prince of Peace”
And they call him by “The Saviour”
And they pray to him upon the sea
And in every bold endeavor
As they fill his churches with their pride and gold
And their faith in him increases
But they’ve turned the nature that I worshipped in
From a temple to a robber’s den
In the words of the rebel Jesus

We guard our world with locks and guns
And we guard our fine possessions
And once a year when Christmas comes
We give to our relations
And perhaps we give a little to the poor
If the generosity should seize us
But if any one of us should interfere
In the business of why there are poor
They get the same as the rebel Jesus…[full lyrics here]

(The Rebel Jesus, Jackson Browne, 1997 -copyright Swallow Turn Music)

See below for a video of the song ‘The Rebel Jesus’ by Jackson Browne:

J. Fowler

J. Fowler is the website editor and co-founder, along with his wife Pamela, of the Sustainable Traditions project. The Fowlers live with their seven children on a farm near the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

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