Guess who's coming to the party
Bedtime incarnational theology with the 3 yo...
(Right after bedtime prayers)
3 yo: God is real?
Me: Yes baby, God is real and is always with us.
3 yo: I can invite him to my birthday party?!
Me: You want to invite God to your birthday party? Oh, that's so nice.
3 yo: Yeah! (Yells at ceiling) God, you will come to my birthday party? (Looks back at me) I can have a God theme for my birthday!
Me: A God theme? How will you decorate for a God theme?
3 yo: With crosses!
3 yo: And people will die!
Me: (Not the direction I thought this was going) Okay well I don't think anyone's going to die at your birthday party. I think we decided you're having an airplane theme.
3 yo: Yea! A God and a airplane theme!
As it turned out, no one came to the party I'd planned for my child's 4th birthday party this March (when we had this chat) due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, dear friends drove by to leave gifts, and a local fire truck drove by, too, lights blaring. Then we Zoomed with cake. It was a good day for the new 4 yo, but I was sad, to tell the truth. I had a bigger-than-normal party planned and I'm energized by entertaining. The isolation was just beginning.
Children this age aren't doing much abstract thinking about God or anything. It's all literal. If God's real, of course God must be coming to the party. The lack of the physical presence of God has long been a challenge for God's people, and not just 4-year-olds. Who of us who seek God haven't longed for a physical manifestation: an outstretched hand, a comforting embrace or a whispered insight?
That's why God came to earth in the form of Jesus- a divine being that could be seen, heard and touched. Jesus would eat, laugh, weep, suffer and die, too. Theologians call this the theology of the incarnation: part of God shows up as Jesus, made of flesh and born of woman. Incarnation means that Jesus is fully God and fully human. Ancient Christians had some hard-core battles about this formula, by the way (see: history of the Nicene Creed).
For me, incarnation means that God shows up. God gets close. God comes near. God is present at a birthday party, in a day's work, during an anxious night, at a deathbed. God's there. That's incarnation.
I was sad and worried on the day my child turned four, but God showed up. God's love was incarnate in the friends who came, made signs, brought gifts, or texted kind words. God's kindness was incarnate in fire fighters who chatted up my child from 6 feet away and gave a goodie bag. God's authentic community was incarnate in neighbors who came out to see the fire truck (I had warned them), yelling "happy birthday" from their yards. A couple even brought impromptu gifts and a sign. It was the most people I had seen (albeit from a distance) in weeks, and for a few moments, were were all together.
The incarnation means that Jesus shows up, thank God, and then so can we.