In his book “The Gospel of Matthew: God With Us,” Matt Woodley tells the story of Bono’s return to Ireland after a long tour.
In his book “The Gospel of Matthew: God With Us,” Matt Woodley tells the story of Bono’s return to Ireland after a long tour. The U2 lead singer went to church on Christmas Eve and, at some point in the service, the truth at the heart of the Christmas story bowled him over.
With tears streaming down his face, Bono said, “The idea that ... if there is a force of Love and Logic in the universe, that it would seek to explain itself is amazing enough. That it would seek to explain itself by becoming a child born in poverty … and straw, a child, I just thought, ‘Wow!’ Just the poetry ...”
Bono went on to say, “I saw the genius of picking a particular point in time … Love needs to find a form, intimacy needs to be whispered … Love has to become an action or something concrete. It would have to happen. There must be an incarnation. Love must be made flesh.”
People talk lightly of Christmas miracles, but on that night in Dublin Bono grasped — or was grasped by — the real Christmas miracle: God became one of us, and he did so, as the Church still remembers, “for us and our salvation.”
“For us and our salvation.” We see a little of what the miracle of the incarnation meant for us. But what must it have meant for God?
Of course we cannot know what Deity’s experience was like, but a poor analogy might serve. You know what it is to undergo surgery; to feel the drug surge through your veins, then to lose yourself and the world. You wake up a couple of hours later, groggy and in pain, and somehow changed.
But what if you didn’t wake up in two hours? What if it took nine months, and when you did wake you did not know who or what you were?
What if you had lost all your strength? Unable to eat solid foods, the best you could do was suck and swallow liquids. You couldn’t see clearly, couldn’t understand words, had little use of your hands. You made constant spastic movements, had to learn to walk all over again.
What if it took years to remember who you were, and even when you did, you were not able to do the things you once did? You would feel like you had been emptied of yourself.
That is something like what the Church believes happened in the Christmas miracle. When God became a man he did not suddenly appear, in Zeus-like fashion, in human form. Rather, he went through the same experience we all do. In the words of the Te Deum (one of the oldest Christian hymns), “he did not despise the Virgin’s womb.”
That meant the one through whom the cosmos came into being became a single cell, which split into two cells, then doubled to four. That organism (think of calling God an organism!) traveled the Fallopian tube long before he traveled the Via Dolorosa.
By six weeks his eyes had developed a lens and retina. By eight weeks he began developing a skeletal system. Within the first trimester he could feel pain — a feeling with which he would become very familiar. After nine months he came into the world the way we all come into it. He was one of us; was, in the prophet’s famous words, “God with us.”
St. Augustine put it this way: “He was made man, who made man. He was created of a mother whom he created. He was carried by hands that he formed. He cried in the manger in wordless infancy, he the Word, without whom all human eloquence is mute.”
Bono, it appears, was on to something: “Love must be made flesh.” Yet the process by which it happened staggers the imagination. Clearly St. Paul thought so: “Beyond all question,” he once wrote, “the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body ...”
Shayne Looper is the pastor at the Lockwood Community Church in Coldwater, Mich. He can be reached at email@example.com.