Unavoidable, Undeniable, Incarnational
Certainly one verse in The Message that has proven especially resonant comes at the outset of the Gospel of John: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14).
John’s declaration here is resonant because it is so unflinchingly incarnational. What is the main storyline of the Bible? Incarnation—Jesus. The biggest heresies that have troubled the church have eliminated the body of Jesus—his flesh and blood. They make it into an idea, and the minute you make it into an idea, then you can argue about it.
This is gnosticism, and God has no time for it. He has time for gnostics. But gnosticism itself is not a priority for Jesus. It is, in fact, the exact opposite of incarnation. Where gnosticism strips ideas of their involvement in flesh, their relationship with people, the incarnation of Jesus both dignifies the earth and all who occupy it and confronts it and us with the authority of God.
It’s easy these days to affirm the incarnation while effectively dismissing it. We learn of Jesus by way of words distilled through centuries of doctrine and dogma. We accept Jesus as a great idea. But then the picture painted by John expands—”The Word became flesh and blood“—and suddenly the stakes are raised. “The Word . . . moved into the neighborhood“—and suddenly God is in our faces, unavoidable, undeniable, the way every neighbor is unavoidable, undeniable.
Fortunately, this flesh-and-blood God—occasionally frustrating, sure and often mysterious—is good. “We all live off his generous bounty,” John tells us, “gift after gift after gift” (verse 16). This is the neighbor we dreamed about: here with us, in flesh and blood.