Christmas message: The Scandal of the Incarnation

December 17, 2020

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The Magnificat is one of my favorite passages in all of scripture. And, for me, the most significant—the most meaningful verse—is Mary’s assent to bear Christ to the world. Let me remind you of this powerful, yet humble, statement of obedience.

“Then Mary said, ‘I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.’ Then the angel left her.”  (Luke 1:38)

I want to have the same openness to God’s call on my life as Mary displayed. I want to bear Christ to the world—to be a “mother of God” in these difficult, troublesome times.
We are living in a season of multiple viruses—COVID, systemic racism, economic dislocation, and political division. These viruses do not operate in isolation. They are intertwined. And the real pandemic they are creating is a pandemic of unprecedented fear, anxiety, and despair. This is not unlike the pandemic of tyranny, slaughter, fear, and hopelessness that dominated the time into which Jesus was born in occupied Bethlehem.
It helps me understand why so many people were disappointed and could not accept that Jesus did not come as a warrior king, but rather as a humble healer for a sick humanity. I believe even today—in the midst of our current multi-faceted pandemic—many are disappointed that God in Christ has not “called out the Marines” to conquer the evil, injustice, disease, and pain in the world. We desperately long for a savior.
But God chose another way to overcome evil in the world and redeem creation. He sent his son, Jesus, as a tiny, fragile baby fully dependent on human beings for his survival and nurture. God chose to entrust the hope of the world to the womb of an unmarried, teenage girl. God sent Jesus in a form to which all of humanity could relate.
So, what does the nativity teach us? That God operates with an entirely different understanding of what the conquest of evil looks like. That God operates with the idea that the redemption of the world—heaven and earth kissing, as the Psalmist puts it—requires the receptivity, hospitality, obedience, and servanthood of each of us. God’s saving work looks like a crazy strategy. But, that’s part of the scandal of the Incarnation. You and I are a part of the scandal of Incarnation.
Mary got it right when she said, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.” We are called by God in this Christmas season, beset by multiple evil and destructive viruses, to respond with the same openness to let God work through us to bring hope and healing to a broken, hurting, fearful world.
Dear friends and colleagues of the Dakotas and Minnesota Conferences, this will be my last Christmas message for you. Char and I will miss our interactions and sharing ministry with you. As we take leave, I commend you to God’s grace and encourage you to continue to be a part of the scandal of the Incarnation; continue to be a part of the light rising in the darkness; continue to reflect God’s love, mercy, and justice in these frightening and uncertain days.
And, so, I pray:  Holy and gracious God, fill your beloved people of the Dakotas and Minnesota Conferences with your very presence, such that the first and last witness in their hearts and on their lips is, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me, just as you have said.”
Merry Christmas and a most blessed and happy new year!

Bishop Bruce R. Ough is resident bishop of the Dakotas-Minnesota Area of The United Methodist Church.

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