December 24, 2011
One way to think about the incarnation of God is to reflect on the historical nature of Christianity. God entered human history at a particular time and space: under the Roman emperor Augustus; Pontius Pilate, the ruler of Judea; Herod, the ruler of Galilee. There was to be a census and people had to register so they could be taxed. There were particular people, like Peter, John, Mary, Lazarus, who walked with him, washed his feet, ate with him and dipped their bread in the same bowl.
So because of the historical nature of Christianity, as one writer puts it, only those people “had access to the Lord, flesh to flesh.” For us, people living at this particular time in history, one question to think about is: how is Christ in our midst?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s answer is that Christ confronts us in every person that we meet. “Christ walks on the earth as your neighbor as long as there are people.”
This thought is beautifully expressed in Leo Tolstoy’s short story, “Where Love is, There God is Also.” A poor shoemaker, Martuin Avdyeitch, reads in Matthew’s Gospel, about Simon, the Pharisee who invited Jesus to his house and the woman who shows up, uninvited, washes Jesus‘ feet with her tears and wipes them with her hair. After reading it he is concerned that he is like the Pharisee because, just in case “Christ the Batyushka” visits him, he does not have the slightest idea how he should receive him. Eventually Avdyeitch falls asleep and hears his name three times and a voice says, “Martuin, look tomorrow on the street. I am coming.” So the next day, skeptical but expectantly, he finds himself looking out the window, waiting, watching for Christ. He has three encounters with different people and is able to bless them in simple but tremendous ways. That night, as Avdyetich is putting away his work he thinks of his dream--”Christ the Batyushka” visiting him, and hears a voice, “Martuin! Did you not recognize Me?” “Who?” he asks, and out of the corner of the room, one after the other, appear the same people whom he had blessed that day. Then they vanish. Avdyeitch’s soul rejoices. He opens the New Testament and begins to read,
“For I was hungered, and ye gave me meat. I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger and ye took me in... In as much as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25)
Then Avdyeitch understood that the Savior really called on him that day.
Merry Christmas and may we experience Christ in our midst this season and always.