Sometimes words help us understand – and sometimes words make things more complicated. The word for today is “incarnation.” It’s a big theology word that simply means that God has come to be with us. In Christ, God took on human form. He was born in Bethlehem. He became a human being. Through that act of incarnation, God accomplished His great work of salvation.
At the same time, God demonstrated His desire to identify completely with us.
The story is told of a nineteenth-century missionary named Joseph Damien. He ministered to people with leprosy on the island of Molokai in Hawaii. The suffering lepers there grew to love him as he lived a life of sacrifice among them.
One morning Joseph was getting ready to lead a worship service. As he was preparing a cup of coffee, the hot water spilled onto his bare foot. It took him a moment to realize that, even though the water was boiling hot, he had felt no sensation. Gripped by the sudden fear of what that could mean, he poured more hot water on the same spot. There was no feeling whatsoever.
Father Damien immediately knew what had happened. He realized that the absence of feeling in his foot could mean only one thing. He knew that he had now taken on the suffering of the people he served; he knew that he had now contracted leprosy.
As he walked tearfully to the chapel to share his sermon that morning, no one noticed the difference in his opening sentence – but it was significant. He normally began every sermon by saying, “My fellow believers.”
But this day, he began his sermon with these words: “My fellow lepers.”
That’s what incarnation means – and that is what our gracious God has done. He has identified with us completely. That means that He understands our pain, our fear, our losses, and our limitations.
He is, indeed, God with us. Thanks be to God for the incarnation!