“God become flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.” (John 1:14, The Message)
With the Incarnation, God rebooted the human story. The fact that everything now is AD is symbolic of a greater reality. When God sent Jesus, it was like He gave the world a second chance. It’s like He said, “Hey Earth, let’s start over. Only this time, let’s get it right!”
A few years ago, I read a book titled The Triumph of Christianity. The author, academic historian Dr. Rodney Stark, tried to account for what he calls “the rapid and remarkable Christianization of the world.” How did Christianity take over the civilized world in a few short centuries? From the Apostle John’s perspective, it’s a pretty short answer. God showed up!
You may have noticed that Judaism never took over the world. Even though God supernaturally, strategically, and consistently platformed His people through both personal friendships and political alliances, they were content to just be God’s favorites. Judaism hasn’t wavered from that path. It is not a proselytic faith. Jewish people don’t tend to proselytize, that is, they don’t try to convert people. Christianity, on the other hand, is very proselytic. We compel people to follow Jesus. Jews are most happy when you just leave them alone to be who they are. While Jesus was born a Jew, the Incarnation meant that Christianity was going to be different. (Then again, religion was never going to do much to save the world anyway.)
John said that Jesus made His dwelling with us. “Made his dwelling" is eskēnōsen, the Greek term for "setting up a tent." For us, a tent is temporary housing, to be sure. But eskēnōsen speaks of proximity, not temporality. We pitch a tent when we want to get close to something. We go into the wilderness to get close to nature, be immersed in a natural setting, and even interact with wildlife in ways that we simply could not experience from a distance. Bears and elk don’t generally show up where most of us live.
By “pitching His tent” with Jesus, God wanted to get close to us, to facilitate interaction with us. When we build a house and put a big fence around it, it says that we want to be separated. (Theologically, that’s very Jewish.) But when you pitch a tent in my backyard, you’re saying that you’ll probably need to use our bathrooms and even be sharing some meals with us. God was facilitating that kind of close up interaction with us through Jesus.
With the Incarnation, God went beyond just being revealed in the written Word. He became the living Word. Because we now have a personal relationship with Jesus, we no longer need to be in the dark about God. When you watch how Jesus behaves, you can understand how God behaves. When you hear Jesus teach, you hear God teach. When you come to know what Jesus is like, you get to know what God is like.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
Only two of Jesus' divine attributes are listed there, but they're pretty impressive.
Grace" is from the Greek charis, meaning “an undeserved gift.” By pitching His tent in our neighborhood, Jesus showed us how much grace God actually is "full of"! Which raises a good question. How much of that "fullness" has He extended your direction? How many gifts has God given you?
We could start with the gift of Heaven, which is no small gift! But what about all the other things God has given us that we don’t deserve. How many relational gifts has He blessed us with? How many resource gifts or opportunity gifts can you think of? Make a list and check it twice! Face it, you've been more naughty and less nice than you want to admit. Thank God for His grace—and then do something with it!
When Jesus healed the man who had been possessed by demons (Mark 5), Jesus declined his request to return to Galilee with them. Rather, Jesus told Him to make sure his own people (his oikos) recognized what Jesus had done for him and how he had been shown mercy. And the only way to make sure that those things could effectively be communicated would be for the man to “go home,” to go back and “pitch his tent,” to be incarnational with his oikos, to live among them, to reveal God to them.
Which brings us to the other thing that Jesus was "full of." Truth is the Greek aletheias. It means “unconcealed, genuine.” God's people had already been reading the written Word for centuries. But seeing the Word come alive in Ultra HD was clarifying. Jesus exposed God in a way the world had never seen. Jesus showed us that everything we'd read was legit.
But Jesus also showed us how grace and truth feed off of each other. He fully unconcealed the genuine sin barrier that separated us from God, and then He dismantled it with His grace.
For years, we’ve issued that challenge to the HDC family, “to go home" and do likewise, to both graciously demonstrate faith for their oikos and truthfully discuss faith with their oikos. Our personal mission requires that we too “pitch our tents.” We would all agree that the Incarnation was necessary for salvation. It should not surprise us, then, that living incarnationally (in relationship) with our oikos is the primary way God chose to bring the Gospel of salvation to a lost world.
So, absolutely yes, joy to the world! Immanuel (Hebrew) “God is with us.” But He didn't come to just be with us. He came to be with us for a reason. Or two. Let's go camping.