The world was an enemy occupied kingdom—and the enemy had turned the hearts of the people against the king they had once loved. Those who had been alive when the king was physically present and ruling were long dead; all that was left for the younger generations were stories, stories that had been distorted over the centuries. The king knew that the only way to win back his kingdom and the love and trust of his people would be to sneak into their midst. Propaganda wouldn’t work because they had been fed so many lies and misconceptions of what his kingdom was actually like. The people wouldn’t be won back by an extensive military campaign—they would either feel conquered and obligated to return their allegiance to him or they would turn to him because they saw he was more powerful and wanted to be on the winning side. But what the king wanted was the trust and allegiance of their hearts. He wanted them to follow because of who he was, not just what he could offer them. The only way to do this would be to sneak into the kingdom in disguise and let them get to know him, slowly revealing his true identity. Then his true kingdom, formed by the band of those who knew him, could rise up in the midst of oppositional rule, to reclaim and reorient the kingdom as it was meant to be around its rightful king.
As soon as the weather cools and the New England foliage drifts leaf by leaf to the ground, I start to think of the holidays. The season evokes a sense of warmth in my heart—time with family, beautifully wrapped gifts all carefully chosen, tiny lights glimmering between colorful antique ornaments, the smell of pine and freshly baked cookies, the familiar sound of songs crackling from the record player. It’s a precious time.
This year, I’ve been mulling over the Incarnation. If Jesus was just a normal baby born to a poor family in 1st century Palestine, his birth would not be important at all. If he was just a revered teacher, it might be notable but certainly not something worthy of being celebrated by millions of people worldwide.
But Jesus, he was fully God—the ruler of the universe, the creator of everything—God putting on human skin. We could not approach God ourselves. He was too big, too high, too far out of our reach. So he came to us. But he came in disguise - as the rightful king slipping in to win back the hearts of his people. He didn’t come in extreme power so that we had no other choice but to submit to following him. He came as a small baby, born in a barn, a supposedly illegitimate child of a poor couple, in a land ruled by foreigners. He was Emmanuel—God with us, not in a flash of power, grandeur, and might, but in the soft skin, the whimpering cries, the fragile, sleeping form of a newborn. And this—this birth of the long-forgotten, long-awaited king, this was the first moment we could see God with a human face.