“And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
December is one of the most cherished times in the Christian calendar. Advent prepares us for Christmas when we celebrate the birth of Jesus 2,000 years ago. This time of year is a celebration of the profound mystery and infinite goodness of God, the fulfillment of a promise made centuries earlier when sin entered the world and created a rift between God and creation.
But how God chooses to mend this rift is not through violence, but through birth; not through indomitable strength and power, but through a baby, born in a manger.
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us…
– John 1:14
Theologians call this miracle the Doctrine of Incarnation, and this doctrine sits at the core of our Christian faith. The Divine is not just some unseen presence pulling the strings of humanity, absent to the carnal and lowly needs of humans. The Doctrine of Incarnation says that the second person in the Trinity, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was born to the Virgin Mary and dwelt among us as a son, brother, and friend. Jesus isn’t a “lesser part” of the Trinity because he bore flesh, he is exalted, now seated at the right hand of God. After his bodily crucifixion he experienced a bodily resurrection, appearing numerous times in physical form and inviting his disciples to reach out and touch the scars in his hands.
So what could this mean for us as we consider our own bodies? Could they really be considered something set apart, blessed, sacred?
In his book Prayer of Heart and Body, Father Thomas Ryan writes,
Where we are and what we are is now the intimate habitat of God. If ever we approached life in this world as a second-rate adventure in the service of another world, the Incarnation demands that we revise that assessment in favor of recognizing the inherent value of our embodied earthly life.
It is not so much that the Word entered the world; it is rather that the Word became flesh. In the Incarnation, Jesus in his flesh took the world as part of himself… Since God is identified with and discovered within this bodiliness, this fleshiness, this materiality, this sensuality, we have no right to dismiss the world as some second-rate practice field for the real life in heaven. The Incarnation states that there is no practice and nothing is second-rate. Life in this world is the life of God.
For many of us, this idea of our bodies as a sacred space can trigger an array of feelings. Our bodies are not only a place we feel pleasure but also pain. As famed trauma expert Bessel van der Kolk would say, “our bodies keep the score.” Trauma, abuse, and neglect have left their mark on each one of us and our bodies not only bear the scars but also carry the blame. Our preferred way of coping with this kind of stress is to disassociate ourselves from our bodies – to ignore it, condemn it, obsessively control it, or dismiss it.
Surely this body is not holy ground? Surely there’s nothing sacred about it?
And yet, this human body is what Jesus chose to inhabit for 33 years. Clothed in flesh and bone, Jesus laughed, wept, journeyed, worshipped, celebrated, and mourned. Clothed in flesh and bone he fixed his heart on God and brought glory to the Father by his embodied obedience.
Father Ryan goes on to write,
We have not been burdened with this world and this flesh in order that we might weasel our way out. Rather, we have been gifted with this world and these bodies because this is where God dwells…It is in these bodies that we work out our salvation. This corporeal nature is the place that God chose to call ‘home.’
Unlike the way of the world, we do not worship our bodies nor do we denigrate them and cast them aside. The way of God is the narrow way, the beloved appreciation of these vessels that God has given us to know and be known by Him here and now.
So how then can we see our bodies through the eyes of God?
How can we be stirred to steward our bodies well?
And how can we live knowing that intimacy with God is not something to be discovered out there but cultivated right here?
As we celebrate the profound mystery of “the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us,” may we consider afresh these bodies we have been given for in them we are able to draw near to God, be healed by Love, be quieted by Peace, be enlivened by Joy, and be nurtured by Faithfulness.