Christmas Day: In the Flesh

By Jennifer Pelling

Advent Devotional | December 25, 2017

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:14

Just before our grammar lesson, we discussed Santa and Jesus. And I’m not sure how I did.

My Japanese friend is learning English. I’m her tutor, so on Wednesday afternoons we sit at “our” coffee shop table and laugh over steaming cups of tea. I’m grateful for the laughter, because being a tutor is harder than I thought. My most common response to her grammar questions is, “I’ll get back to you next week.”

You have no idea how complicated English is until you try to explain it to someone.

Between my semi-coherent explanations, my friend and I just talk. She’s very interested in American holidays, and so I’ve tried to explain why we have Labor Day, how trick-or-treating works, and why Thanksgiving turkeys only come in very large sizes.

In early December, she asked if Santa would bring our kids lots of presents.

I hesitated, trying to phrase my reply in very simple English. Yes. And no.

We would buy our kids presents, but we also teach them about Jesus and about giving to others. At church (I figured I should mention church), we would hear the Christmas story and sing “Silent Night.” With candles. Lots of candles.

But as I spoke, I also knew that I was making us sound more holy than we really were. There was a lot I couldn’t explain in simple English.

Like I would intend to focus on Jesus, but I would spend my energy picking a Christmas tree and a family photo for the card. I would try to avoid materialism and give to the needy, but then I would buy my kids one more stuffed animal that they really don’t need. On the evening of December 25th, we would be like most Americans—knee-deep in wrapping paper and ready to collapse from stuff and sugar overload.

You have no idea how complicated Christmas is until you try to explain it to someone.

So I was honest. There’s Santa and there’s Jesus, I told my friend, and sometimes they all get mixed up.

In its simplicity, this statement was the truest thing I could have said: At Christmas, everything is mixed up. Santa and Jesus, the sacred and the secular, the human and the holy—in December, everything gets tangled up, like twisted strings of Christmas lights.

Sometimes this bothers me. I don’t know what to do, what to buy, what to prioritize. How much is too much? I want to get Christmas right, but I continually fall short. I get weary, and so I pray,

Lord, what do you think about all this?

Opening my Bible to the book of John, I read four powerful words: "The Word became flesh." In Greek, it's even more striking—the Logos, the all-pervading wisdom by which the universe was made, becomes sarx. Skin and bones. A fragile human body. Flesh.

The Word becomes flesh. Logos becomes sarx. Everything gets all mixed up.

Suddenly, my place of frustration becomes a source of hope. The Word became flesh. This over-lapping reality between the human and the holy isn’t an accident. Jesus came to mix things up.

And I look at Christmas with new eyes. Instead of trying to find the purely spiritual places where I get things right, I peer into the mess. I see good intentions, bad financial decisions and partially-mended relationships. I see my children rejoice over things they don’t need, hold the hands of seniors who thought they were forgotten, and smile when the Christmas pageant does not go as planned. I pray to the Word-made-flesh,

Lord, you make the holy human and the human holy. Be here this Christmas Day.

And I know that until this tension resolves, until Jesus returns—in the flesh—and earth becomes like heaven, Christmas Day will be all mixed-up.

So until then, I will meet Jesus here, knee-deep in wrapping paper, and He will renew my hope.

Jennifer Pelling is a writer and editor for the CCO. Jen was introduced to CCO ministry when she was a student at Juniata College, and after she graduated in 1999, she spent six years working as campus ministry staff with students at Chatham University.