The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


God with a human face

Christmas forever changes the way we experience God

What difference does it make that Christians believe that Jesus is "the image of the invisible God" (Colossians 1:15)? Do they relate to God differently from other religious peoples because they affirm that God is incarnate — made flesh — in the person and work of Jesus?

The difference is partially illustrated by a Hmong father who resettled in my community. He offered a burnt sacrifice on a makeshift altar in his garage one day. "I must thank the spirit of my dead brother for my family's safe crossing of the Mekong [River]," he told me. This was his way of connecting through an intermediary with a god whom he acknowledged — but who he believed was beyond reach. For many religious people God is remote, difficult to relate to and beyond human contact.

By contrast "the Incarnation affirms that God is involved in the messiness of the world with us," says Walter Bouman, professor of systematic theology at Trinity Lutheran Seminary, Columbus, Ohio. "Martin Luther was absolutely shameless about this. [Speaking about the infant Jesus] he would say, 'God dirties his diapers.' In seeing Jesus stay behind in the temple at age 12, he would say, 'God had to learn obedience to his parents.' In seeing Jesus go home with the sinner Zacchaeus, he would say, 'God visited Zacchaeus.'

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