By Garrett Lee
On our recent Thanksgiving trip I stopped for an overpriced espresso coffee treat at Fourbucks—which I usually only do on out-of-town trips, preferring the local establishments which typically feel a little more personal, are less directly involved in social engineering policies, and offer more than six flavor syrup options. A few years ago I earned enough “stars” to achieve Gold Level, garnering me a nice credit-card-sized piece of gold-colored plastic tastefully emblazoned with a coffee-cup-to-go logo above my name and proud declaration of the year I became a “member.” Now when someone blesses me with a Fourbucks gift card I go online and transfer the gift bucks to my Gold Card consolidating the bucks on my card for future trips and reducing the plastic in my wallet.
As the barista handed me my venti (fancy-speak for “large”) chestnut-praline-triple-espresso-with-only-three-flavor-shots latte, I was strangely warmed to see my name handwritten on the side of the pressed-paper, hot-drink cup. Nobody had asked my name, mind you—the cashier had just noted it from my Gold Card.
OK, it’s not much, just the acknowledgment of my name; but it’s a personal touch.
Christmas works best with the personal touch. A gift certificate is an easier gift allowing the recipient to assure scoring the right item in the right color and with all the right features while freeing the giver from the burden of selection. I enjoy receiving gift cards myself and have sometimes resorted to giving them.
All that being acknowledged, though, there’s still something to be said for the personal touch of handpicking a gift that not only says, “I love/appreciate you,” but also declares with accurate confidence, “I know you.” It just feels more like a “real” gift (even if I’d rather have the Fourbucks card).
Christmas celebrates the very real gift of the Incarnation—the coming of Almighty God into human flesh. It’s the ultimate personal touch.
The greatest description of the Incarnation comes through the Apostle John, Jesus’ personal best friend. Read the beginning of John’s gospel from this perspective. Imagine John as a frail, old man remembering the unforgettable. Those three miraculous years he shared with the Master, John was a young man—possibly even in his late teens, a full decade or so younger than Jesus. Now he is the last living apostle and is sitting down to record his experience on paper. John’s ancestor Abraham was “the friend of God” (James 2:23); but John ate breakfast with Him. I don’t mean he had his morning devos over coffee in meditative prayer to Jesus, either. John actually dined around the same campfire, tearing pieces off the same stone-baked bread or roasted fish. John knew the personal touch of God if anyone did! He’d still recognize Jesus’ laugh in a crowd. It now feels like ages ago, yet he remembers it like it was yesterday. It all seems like a distant dream, yet a certain aroma wafting across his face instantly transports him to the room where they shared their last Passover together. How do you translate that into mere words? The inspiration of the Holy Spirit notwithstanding, I think John must have wrestled with that. From the struggle emerges one of the highest, loftiest, personal documents ever penned. It begins thus:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning.
3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it….
9 The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world….
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth….
18 No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known (John 1:1-18, NIV, excerpted).
John understood that even as miraculous and marvelous and magnificent as his Jewish heritage was, it took the personal touch of divinity coming in human flesh to make God truly known to mankind. It is real relationship—not Facebook, but face to face.
The Incarnation is the personal touch. It’s got touchable flesh all over it: Jesus was born in the flesh (celebrated at Christmas), died in the flesh (celebrated on Good Friday), arose in the flesh (celebrated on Easter and every Sunday), and ascended into heaven in the flesh (to be celebrated when we too are resurrected in the flesh).
Christmas celebrates the Incarnation as the greatest Gift. It’s a real Gift—handpicked by God for us, not just grabbed off the religion gift card rack. Everyone who accepts the Gift is a gold level member with no need to add up stars, points, or miles. The Gift is automatically transferred to our individual accounts. The Gift says in no uncertain terms, “I know you, and I love you.” Jesus is personal—we all need him, and he calls us by name. Jesus is touch—he doesn’t just adorn our lives, he alters them.
This Advent/Christmas season let Jesus incarnate himself in you with the personal touch; let His Spirit be yours, and let your flesh be His. Let the Incarnation in you give to others God’s personal touch. Merry Christmas!