Rejoicing in a Flesh-and-Blood Jesus
By Ashleigh Greene, MAT Student
The dilemma was not a lack of room at the inn. Joseph and Mary were looking for a place to stay because the guestroom of a two-room home with attached stable was already occupied. At least, that’s what Kenneth Bailey, scholar and author of Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, says of Jesus’s birth. According to Bailey, Luke implies that it was in such a residence—likely belonging to extended family—that Jesus was lying in a manger, not in the kind of stable portrayed by our traditional nativity sets.
For me, these odd, seemingly irrelevant historical and cultural details are what bring Scripture to life. Since taking a New Testament course last year as a college senior, I have realized just how little I know about Jesus and his world, sparking dozens of new questions, and ultimately, bringing me to seminary to find some answers. My good friend Michael—who is agnostic—wonders why such academic information about Jesus should matter to Christians. “What’s wrong with Jesus being a disembodied idea that you worship?” he asks. “It’s not as if you can see or touch him today, anyway.” The answer, I think, is wrapped up in the significance of Christmas: We Christians claim that God broke into history as a real human being, putting aside his privilege to experience—and ultimately, redeem—life on earth. To me, this means the humanity of Jesus—and thus all questions relating to his historical existence—is as essential to the gospel as his divinity.
At Christmas we remember that Christianity is, as Duke Divinity professor Lauren Winner says in her book Girl Meets God, “radically incarnational.” “I am a Christian,” explains this Jewish follower of Jesus, “because being a Christian gives me a picture of God to talk to during all these moments where, without the picture, I would forget that God exists… I no longer know how to make sense of God, or anything else for that matter, without it.” The incarnation may be special to each of us in different ways, but I, like Winner, find it one of the most meaningful doctrines of Christianity.
Without an incarnation we couldn’t see a crucifixion and resurrection, meaning that, instead of Christ, death would still reign. We also would have a profoundly different understanding of God and of ourselves: the incarnation demonstrates how strongly God believes his creation, including humanity, is worth rescuing. Since God was willing to become like us, we witness his deep interest in the reconciliation and restoration of all creation, including human bodies, souls, and relationships.
During my study at Fuller, I hope to catch more glimpses into Jesus’s world, wading deeper into this miraculous idea of the incarnation. As I explained to Michael, when I study Jesus, he becomes an actual Jewish teacher from Galilee—a real human being—rather than only a concept, and I think that story of Christmas is truly good news.