With the Christmas season a month-and-a-half gone and our Easter celebration a month-and-a-half away, we find ourselves—figuratively speaking—right in the middle of Incarnation: God with us in the flesh.

But as timeless and perplexing as this truth is for us, imagine what it must have been like for those experiencing firsthand the wonders of Christ’s birth and resurrection. They had waited for 1,900 years. Long enough!

And yet, they missed him. Why?

Since the time of Abraham (and before), Christ’s announcers had given increasing definition to their hope. Then, almost 2,000 years ago, a dust-clad prophet named John the Baptist proclaimed, “There he is, God’s Lamb.” (Perhaps his listeners would have paid more attention if he had said “Lion.”)

But the Baptist’s word only introduced Incarnation. There was Jesus himself—and his works. If he was not the Christ, what more could one do than he had already done? And as for his life, it was holy. To the temple agents who mercilessly sought a flaw he could say, “Which of you convinces me of sin?”

Still, they missed him. Incarnation was too perplexing. Christ had not come in the right form. The people could not believe how far God was willing to go or how close he wanted to come.

That we might be one with God has always pleased our fancy; that we might share his state, our dream. But that he should become one of us is another matter. The English writer John Donne understood such perplexity: “’Twas much, that man was made like God before, But that God should be like man much more.”

Wrote John Wesley: “Our God, ever blest, With oxen doth rest, / Is nursed by his creature, And hangs at the breast.”

The One on whom the existence and welfare of all things rests hanging helplessly at human breast? That God should want to come so close seems too good to be true. Or, too good not to be true?

However, if Bethlehem produces awe, Golgotha can only evoke horror. Surely God did not have to go that far! A king should be able to do his business in a more fitting way. The crown and the throne, the scepter and the retinue were all expected. The scourge, the cross, the criminal’s fate were too much. John Donne again:

“What a death were it to see God die? / It made his own Lieutenant Nature shrink, / It made his footstool crack and the Son wink.”

Willingness to bear our flesh may appeal to the aesthetic in us, but the need to bear our evil offends. Could he not keep his appropriate distance? We get uneasy when God becomes vulnerable and identifies with us—his opposite. Was there no other way? Cannot even God save without exposure?

Some months ago, a friend was led to visit an AIDS victim to share Christ. The doctors insisted that he put on a mask, gloves, and full gown to protect himself. As he donned his gear, he sensed the separation that the safety equipment signified. Off went the suit.

My friend laid his bare hand on the bare flesh of the victim and quietly said, “I have come to tell you that God loves you and I do too.” Vulnerability made words more than words. They were true signs of reality. It is little wonder the patient opened himself both to my friend and to Christ.

If God could not redeem without becoming vulnerable, perhaps there is no other way for us. And thus the question forever faces us: Are we willing to pay the price?

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.