By Dick Barrett
We are entering into the special time of year when we celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas. Thanksgiving was originally a religious holiday in which people paused to give thanks to God for the blessings of the harvest. Thanksgiving is followed by the beginning of Advent as Christians prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, our American consumer-driven society has hijacked both of these holidays, causing them to lose their true meaning. Thanksgiving is now a day that we celebrate with family, watch football, eat lots of food, and get ready to start shopping on Black Friday. Very rarely do we pause to reflect on what we are really thankful for.
Christmas, too, has lost its true meaning in much of our country. Christmas has become a day in which we buy and exchange gifts for one another. Very rarely do we pause and reflect on what the gift of Jesus Christ really means for both us and the world. What is the gift of the incarnation? The writer of the gospel of John tells us, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14a). Eugene Peterson, in his translation The Message, writes, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.”
However, after his death, resurrection and ascension back into heaven, the human physical Jesus is no longer with us. What does the incarnation mean for us Christians today? Because of Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, every believer has the opportunity to experience the incarnation within. Recently I was speaking with some other Mennonites from around the country, discussing some of the unique characteristics that the original Anabaptists and Mennonites held in common. We talked about the importance of discipleship, believer’s baptism, the emphasis on peace, nonviolence and nonresistance. One of the beliefs of the early Anabaptists and Mennonites that we don’t seem to talk much about anymore is the need to be “born again.” In the verses preceding John 1:14, the gospel writer tells us, “to all who did receive him, who believe in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13). In the New Living Translation we read these words from the apostle Paul, “And the same one who descended is the one who ascended higher than all the heavens, so that he might fill the entire universe with himself” (Ephesians 4:10 NLT).
Because of the physical incarnation of Jesus, through his death, resurrection, ascension and the sending of the Holy Spirit upon believers, we all have the opportunity to experience the spiritual incarnation, filling the entire world with Jesus. When I think about all the things that I am thankful to God for, I am most thankful for the incarnation, first in Jesus, then in me.
My prayer for all of us in Ohio Conference this Thanksgiving and Christmas season is that we may pause in the busyness of the season and reflect on their true meaning. May we all be thankful for the incarnation!