An element that seems to have been assumed throughout human history is the notion that the table is sacred; such a notion seems to transcend culture itself. While ours is a generation that can boast much about technological advancements and scientific breakthroughs, the aspect of the sacred nature of the table is under serious assault.
For some families, there is no set time when all gather in order to physically eat; everyone grabs food at their own preferred time, some choosing to eat in their own room. For others, the element of a set family meal is present but is quickly threatened by eyes glued onto screens, revealing limited authentic face-to-face interaction.
Generations past bemoaned of fathers not being present because of the “bottle” (alcohol addiction); coming generations very well may lament of parents not being present because of their iPhones or Smartphones. While we are witnessing what no humans before us have seen in terms of technology, we are also experiencing what humanity has never seen in just how impersonal (and individualistic) we are collectively becoming. Some correctly make the parallel between ancient Corinth and modern America.
It is fitting, in such an impersonal time, to reflect on the profound story of the Birth and Incarnation of Christ; a story which claims that Jesus (existing prior to his human existence) entered our broken reality to reveal the very heart of God. Jesus comes as the final word of what God is really like, revealing God’s personal and relational character, and disclosing that this has always been God’s default character. (God cannot help but be relational!)
John 1:14 stresses this very thing in claiming that Christ took on “flesh and made his dwelling among us.” A literal translation might look something like this: “and tabernacled among us” or “pitched his tent among us,” or even “made his home among us.” Christ the Creator (John 1:3) has drawn near to his creatures, and has taken on full humanity in order to do so.
God shows up on the scene in real time and in real flesh and blood; not through a live chat, or a phone call, or even a collection of writings. Emmanuel (God with us) is not presented in the Birth narratives as being metaphorical; rather, the claim is that Christ is the literal representation of God’s personal presence on the earth. For the first time in human history, creation is face to face with its Creator as the Creator has fully taken upon himself our frail humanity. Christ was seen in real time and real space: “we have seen his glory” (v. 14).
While we are quickly losing touch with what it means to be personal and relational, Christ’s birth reminds of his personal nature, and how the Creator modeled for his creatures how this looks. The infant narratives (as well as John 1) remind us of the importance of being present among our friends and family (and for some, this may start with something as simple as putting down a phone). The infant narratives also remind the local church of our call to be present within our surrounding culture, rather than remaining in a bubble.
The good news of the Gospel is not simply that God became present 2,000 years ago (proceeding to up and leave), as profoundly as such a reality is. Rather, the Presence of Christ on the earth is a permanent and present reality (John 14:23); Christ ascending does not mean that Christ left our earth, our abode. As Cherith Fee notes,
“Ascension does not mean floating, and it does not mean raising up and disappearing. Ascension is the language you use for coronation. When Queen Elizabeth ascended to the throne of England in place of her father, that’s ascension. Ascension is to be coronated, to be exalted to your position of highest authority. And it’s from this position of highest authority now that the still and forever eternally incarnate Lord Jesus is busy being the ruler of the kings of this world, busy bringing forward his kingdom until its final completion, busy standing in the places of suffering for those who suffer.”