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I recall many years ago, packing the kids in the car and setting out for Lima, Ohio where my Nana was still living in her home at 654 Ewing Avenue. When we got to Findlay, we stopped at Burger King for a Whopper. After we chowed down on those flame-broiled delights, we hit the road heading south on I -75 toward our destination. About halfway between Findlay and Lima, I recall hearing Jennifer say, what all parents love to hear: “Oh, oh”
“What’s the matter?”
“I don’t have my retainer (orthodontist had Jennifer wearing a retainer).
“Where do you remember having it last?”
After a few seconds, I heard her say what I already suspected but definitely didn’t want to hear, “At Burger King.”
So I got off at the next exit, flipped around to head back north and began to think this situation through. Jennifer took her retainer out to eat, she probably placed it on her food tray and since she didn’t have it now it was probably left on the food tray such that when we got up to leave the trash and the retainer went into the trash receptacle.
We had no other choice; when we got to the Burger King, about 40 minutes after we left, I explained the situation to the manager who informed us that the receptacle had recently been emptied and gladly allowed me to choose a bag out of the dumpster out back and begin sifting through the refuse. So I dove in and began fishing through grease-soaked sandwich wrappers, catsup soaked french-fry holders, and saliva-soaked napkins. A shiny layer of trashcan slime was clinging to my arms by the time I finally grasped hold of Jennifer’s precious retainer.
But that’s nothing compared to our dumpster-diving God, who left a glorious, immaculate, magnificent, perfect, pristine, and sinless heaven to search through the filth and rubbish of this fallen world for something precious to Him—you and me.
“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 NLT).
Gary Burge, who agrees with Barclay, writes, “These verses of scripture are perhaps some of the most important words ever penned” 1
Williams Barclay writes, “Here we come to the sentence for the sake of which John wrote his gospel. 2 And again, “This is the single greatest verse in the New Testament.” 3
Barclay notes, “He has thought and talked about the ‘word’ of God. That powerful, creative, dynamic word which was the agent of creation, that guiding directing, controlling word which puts order into the universe and intelligence into human beings. This word which created the world, this reason which controls the order of the world, has become a person. 4
But that’s not all, he continues: “What John says is that the word became
‘The word became FLESH!’ Someone writing about the incarnation coined the phrase ‘God as a fetus’ and went on to say something about how mind-boggling it is that the God who brought the universe into existence could not, for a time, even control his bladder.
‘The word became FLESH!’ ‘Flesh;’ subject to decay. Human flesh; subject to disease and eventually subject to death.
When you stop and ruminate on it, the virgin birth of Jesus is far less mind-boggling than the Creator of the Universe stooping so low as to become one of us.
In God Is Closer than You Think, John Ortberg tells about “Father Damien, a priest who became famous for his willingness to serve lepers. For 16 years, worked in a leper colony. He lived in their midst, learned to speak their language, bandaged their wounds, embraced the bodies no one else would touch, preached to hearts that would otherwise have been left alone. He organized schools, bands, and choirs. He built homes so that the lepers could have shelter. He also built 2,000 coffins by hand so that, when they died, they could be buried with dignity.
Father Damien was not careful about keeping his distance. He did nothing to separate himself from his people. He did not always wash his hands after bandaging open sores. He dipped his fingers in the poi bowl along with the patients. He got close. For this, the people loved him.
Then one day he stood up and began his sermon, “We lepers.” Now he wasn’t just helping them. Now he was one of them. From this day forward, he wasn’t just in their village; he was in their skin. He had chosen to live as they lived; now he would die as they died.” 6
One day God came to Earth and began his message: “We lepers.” Now He wasn’t just helping us, now He was one of us. Now He was in our skin. First, He chose to live as we live; now He will die as we die.
“Though he was God, He did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, He gave up his divine privileges; He took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When He appeared in human form, He humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8 NLT).
Why would God do that? Because He was full of grace.
Williams Barclay again:
It always has the idea of something completely underserved. It always has the ideas of something that we could never have earned or achieved for ourselves. The fact that God came to earth to live and die for men and women is not something that humanity deserved; it is an act of pure love on the part of God. The word grace emphasizes at one and the same time our own helpless poverty and God’s limitless kindness. 7
This act of dumpster diving, this act of stooping, this act of Humbling Himself, this act of God becoming flesh is the greatest gift that could possibly be given to humankind; to you and me.
In a sermon titled Playing with the Box, Pastor Paul Tripp writes, “I gave birth to a son who just doesn’t understand gifts. When he was a little guy my wife and I would shop for his Christmas gifts; he would tear them open Christmas morning and play with the boxes. It drove us crazy.
One Christmas we decided we were going to find the gift of gifts that he would not be able to resist. We shopped and shopped, we found the gift, we were so excited. He ripped open the gift like he always did, and wonder of
In the Incarnation, we have been given the most awesome gift that could ever be given. It’s gorgeous from every perspective. It’s a gift of such grandeur that it’s hard to wrap human vocabulary around it. It’s beautiful from every vista; it’s the gift that every human being needs. It’s a gift that in all of our work, all of our effort and all of our achievement we couldn’t have ever earned; we could have never deserved; we could have never achieved. It is absolutely without question the gift of gifts. It’s the gift of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ!
And sometimes I can’t help but wonder that in the face of this gift, how many there are who are content to play with the box.
He came unto His own and His own received Him not. But to all who received Him He gave the right to be called children of God (John 1:12 NASB).
Presbyterian author and pastor, Timothy Keller, writes: “Christmas is about receiving presents, but consider how challenging it is to receive certain kinds of gifts. Some gifts by their very nature make you swallow your pride. Imagine opening a present on Christmas morning from a friend and it’s a dieting book. Then you take off another ribbon and wrapper and you find it is a book from another friend, Overcoming Selfishness. If you say to them, “Thank you so much,” you are in a sense admitting you are overweight and selfish. In other words, some gifts are hard to receive, because to do so is to admit you have flaws and weaknesses and you need help. Perhaps on some occasion, you had a friend who figured out you were in financial trouble and came to you and offered a large sum of money to get you out of your predicament. If that has ever happened to you, you probably found that to receive that gift meant swallowing your pride.
There has never been a gift offered that makes you swallow your pride to the depths that the gift of Jesus requires us to do so. Christmas means that we are so lost, so unable to save ourselves, that nothing less than the death of the Son of God himself could save us. That means you are not somebody who can pull yourself together and live a moral and good life.” 9
On her 12th birthday, Billy Joel’s daughter was at home in New York City, while Her famous rock and roll dad was on tour in Los Angeles. He called her that morning, apologizing for his absence, but told her to expect the delivery of a large package before the end of the day. The daughter answered the doorbell that evening to see an eight-foot-tall, brightly wrapped box. She began to tear it open, and lo and
Can you imagine her surprise? 10
We should be able to; our best gift came in the flesh too.
As you ponder the mystery of the Word becoming flesh that first Christmas, remember that it is an invitation to slow down and think deeper. I invite you to touch the infant skin of the God-man with your imagination. I invite you to wonder as the shepherds wondered and to worship as the wise men did. I invite you to allow the God-man, Jesus, to take your sin that you might be whole.
If you can accept my invitation, you will receive the greatest Christmas present on earth: God’s indescribable gift.
“Therefore, God elevated Him to the place of highest honor and gave Him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11 NLT).
“What child is this who laid to rest on Mary’s lap is sleeping, Whom angels greet with anthems sweet, while shepherds watch are keeping? This, this is Christ, the King whom shepherds guard and angels sing.”
How shall we then respond?
“Haste, haste to bring Him laud” (bow down and worship) the Babe the Son of Mary.”
1 Burge, Gary. The NIV Application Commentary; John. [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, © 2000]. Page 61.
2 Barclay, William. The New Daily Study Bible, The Gospel of John, Vol 1.
[Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, © 1975, 2001].
3 Ibid, page 77.
4 Ibid, page 74.
5 Ibid, page 76.
6 Ortberg, John. God Is Closer Than You Think. [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, © 2005]. pgs. 103-104
7 Barclay. Ibid, page 77.
8 Paul Tripp, from the sermon “Playing with the Box,” Gospel Coalition; submitted by Van Morris, Mt. Washington, Kentucky
9 Keller, Timothy. Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ. [New York: Viking, © 2016]. pages 16-17.
10 Lucado, Max. Next Door Savior. [Dallas: Word Publishing, © 2003]. page 113.