I have a confession. I deeply and truly love Christmas, but the sheer enormity of it leaves me flummoxed. I’m not talking about all the shopping or all the bustle and preparation at home and at church. I’m not even grumping about the over-the-top commercialism or all the different greeting card interpretations of the “true meaning” which can put you in a psychological sugar coma if you try to swallow them all at once.
I’m talking about the daunting task of trying to convey a genuine and meaningful understanding of The Incarnation, the idea that the mystery we call God, the Maker of Everything, came to us as one of us—the idea that God “became flesh and lived among us” from gestation to birth to death as a particular person in a particular place and in a particular time so that we could begin to more fully understand that God is with us in all persons, in all creatures, in all creation, and at all times.
That thought, that idea, that reality that we call The Incarnation is so enormous and mind-boggling that it’s really tempting to retreat into the less cosmic halo of ideas that hover around that manger in Bethlehem, ideas like innocence and love personified and new beginnings. Those are all good, true and valuable things. They are meaningful parts of the package. But the goodness, truth, new beginnings and love we see in that holy child become even more potent when we begin to truly understand what God is doing in that manger in Bethlehem.
When the early followers of Jesus began to write down their understanding of who Jesus was and what he was about, when they began to explain what they meant when they called him Christ—Christos—the anointed one, it’s clear that they saw him as something more than just a great spiritual teacher or religious leader. You don’t have to read very far in these early writings to discover that these followers of Jesus thought there was something of cosmic importance about him. Early on they called him the Son of God but that description didn’t seem to be enough for some of them. It didn’t seem to fully capture the cosmic fullness of what they had experienced in Jesus the Christ.
“He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word,” said the writer of Hebrews. “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of creation,” wrote St. Paul, “for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible…all things have been created through him and for him…for in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven…”
Late in the first century, a writer we’ve come to know as John sat down to write his account of Jesus. He wasn’t interested in creating just another chronicle of the life of Jesus as others had done; he wanted to explore the meaning of Jesus. He wanted to make it clear that Jesus the Christ was not someone who could be defined, contained or constrained by geography or time or even philosophy, because the God of all geography and time and philosophy was and is somehow present in him.
John began his gospel like this:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and that life was the light of all humanity. The light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness has not understood it…. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we gazed on his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
The language of this prologue is pure poetry. But it’s also philosophy. And in a strange, farsighted way, John was brushing up against physics.
The Greek word we translate as “Word” is logos. Logos was a word that ancient philosophers loved to play with and because of that we have numerous ways to translate it. One of the oldest meanings of logos was story or narrative. Where does your mind go if you hear In the beginning was the story, and the story became flesh and lived among us?
Logos could also mean content or reason or statement. Other philosophical meaningsincluded, order, idea, blueprint, primordial template, primal thought, or intention.
Logos became flesh and lived among us. The metaphysical became physical. If that sounds too esoteric, consider quantum physics.
Energy moves through quantum fields as abstract mathematical wave functions. When wave functions are observed, they tend to collapse into particles. Particles continually move through patterns in a kind of quantum dance, always moving toward closeness, joining, partnering, combining. Fermions dance with bosons. Neutrinos, muons, gluons, leptons and quarks assemble themselves into protons, neutrons and electrons which assemble themselves into atoms which assemble themselves into molecules we call elements. Hydrogen and carbon molecules dance together to form the four essential organic compounds: nucleic acids, proteins, lipids and carbohydrates. And out of all of this comes life. The Word, the Story, the Pattern, the Intention, the Thought becomes flesh and dwells among us.
The great British astrophysicist James Jeans wrote: “The universe begins to look more like a great thought than a great machine. Mind no longer appears as an accidental intruder into the field of matter; we are beginning to suspect that we ought rather to hail it as a creator and governor of the realm of matter… We discover that the universe shows evidence of a designing or controlling power that has something in common with our own minds.”
This is The Incarnation. The great Thought of God expressed in the whole universe condensed itself into a singular human life and lived among us. And why would God do that?
Teilhard de Chardin saw love as the driving force of the universe. “For Teilhard, love is a passionate force at the heart of the Big Bang universe, the fire that breathes life into matter and unifies elements center to center; love is deeply embedded in the cosmos, a ‘cosmological force.’”
God is Love, we read in 1 John. “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”
Love became flesh and lived among us. And still lives among us. And within us. And around us. And beyond us.
Love…God… was not content to be an abstract idea or a mere sentiment. God, the Author of Life, the One in whom we live and move and have our being is Love with a capital L. Love Personified…and Love is all about relationship. Christmas is when God, the Love that founded the universe, showed up as one of us in order to show us in person just how much we are loved and in order to teach us to love each other more freely and completely.
Love became flesh and lived among us so that we might learn to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and love our neighbors as ourselves.
Love didn’t come to us as a king or potentate to lord it over us. Love came as a poor baby among a poor and oppressed people far from the centers of privilege and power in order to show us that “the fire that breathes life into matter and unifies elements center to center,” is alive in and breathing life into all of us and wants to unify us with each other center to center and heart to heart.
It’s an enormous idea, this thing called Christmas, this Incarnation. This idea that the Word became flesh encompasses everything we see and everything we don’t see. It speaks in poetry then carries us into the depths of philosophy and physics. It warms the heart and boggles the mind. It is, quite literally everything. And the beating heart of it is love.
To even begin to understand the Incarnation, we have to open our minds and our hearts. As another early follower of Jesus wrote: “I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
 Hebrews 1:3
 Colossians 1:15
 James Jeans, The Mysterious Universe, as quoted by Ilia Delio, The Unbearable Wholeness of Being, p. 40
 Ilia Delio, ibid., p.43
 Ephesians 3:18-19