Love, in the Flesh

We are created to love and be loved in the flesh. Heard. Seen. Touched. Held. Through thick and thin.

You can think of the story of Scripture as the story of exactly this kind of love.

In the beginning, God creates human beings to love and be loved, in the flesh, through thick and thin—by God, by each other.

The claim in Genesis 2 that “it is not good for the Human to be alone” is not primarily about marriage, but about human companionship—the animals couldn’t be the equal partner the Human needed, so another Human was made, crafted from bone-of-bone and flesh-of-flesh. And then there’s that simple, powerful image in Genesis 3: God, seeking out the Human, to walk with them in the cool of the day in the shade of a garden.

But these first humans choose a different path. They choose proud selfishness over humble, trusting love, and the results are devastating: guilt and shame, futility and suffering, hostility and exclusion, everything that is not-love, everything that is not-life.

We’ve been choosing that path ever since. All too often, we follow in these tragic footsteps of our forebears, choosing self and separation over love and life. Danielle Lierow’s awful story is like a microcosm of our larger human story—exclusion, isolation, made for love yet untouched by it.

We often do this to others, whether in extreme ways like Dani’s case, or on a smaller scale with our everyday harms, or on a massive scale with our violent extremisms and weaponized war zones. Unlike Dani’s story, we often also do this to ourselves.

This is the story of Eden: humans banished from God’s paradise, isolated from God’s loving presence, not because of God’s desire, but because of our own distorted, selfish desires.

Salvi - Virgin and ChildAnd yet, as the stories of Scripture unfold, the story of God’s love continues on. God seeks out unlikely dance partners, everyone from Noah to Abraham, from Hagar to Jacob to Moses to Ruth. God handpicks David, the runt of the litter, and calls him King, and promises an enduring kingdom, God’s kingdom on earth.

God woos Israel like a lover. God nurses Israel like a mother. This is God’s hesed, Yahweh’s faithful love: unexpected, undeserved, unending.

Still the separation continues: Israel goes their own way, like sheep gone astray, and the nations follow. The edges of our God-created love are frayed; the seams that bind us together are split, hanging by a thread.

It seems impossible. Hopeless.

And then love steps in.

God created human beings to love and be loved, in the flesh—and so God comes in the flesh. In Jesus God becomes one of us: from beating-heart fetus to swaddling-clothed baby to rambunctious boy to full-grown man. In Jesus God takes on our hopes and fears, our joys and sorrows, our deepest desires and greatest longings.

God created human beings to love and be loved, through thick and thin—and so God enters the thickest and thinnest times of human life. In Jesus God walks our path: birth and health and sickness and fear, laughter and weeping and loneliness and temptation, stress and anger and spasms of joy. In Jesus God walks with us through death, through death into resurrection life.

This, all this, is love.

No more separation, no more distance, no more isolation. God has opened the door and stepped in, swept away the filth and swept us up in his arms.

We are created to love and be loved in the flesh. Heard. Seen. Touched. Held. Through thick and thin.

And this is exactly what Scripture says has happened in Jesus. Listen to these words from 1 John:

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it.

God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.

Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

The mystery of God’s love is revealed in Jesus, in the flesh, through thick and thin. And when we ourselves love in the way of God, the way of Jesus—loving and being loved, in the flesh, through thick and thin—the mystery of God’s love is revealed among us afresh.

It has always been so. During this Advent season and beyond, may it be so for us again.

This post is excerpted from my sermon preached at Morden Mennonite Church on Second Advent, Dec. 6, 2015. Cross-posted from © Michael W. Pahl.