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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Religion

Every Christmas, a new identity

UPDATED: Fri., Dec. 22, 2017

By Paul Graves For The Spokesman-Review

Dear Katie, Claire and Andy,

In two days, we’ll celebrate Christmas together as a family. Beside the gifts we exchange, we’ll also talk about the gift God gave us that we celebrate on Dec. 25: Jesus.

You know by now that Dec. 25 isn’t literally the very day Jesus was born. The story of Christmas being celebrated on Dec. 25 is symbolized with religious and cultural traditions. What’s really more important than the literal date of birth is the meaning of God’s birth in Jesus.

The big word for the meaning of Jesus’ birth (regardless of its actual, but unknown, date) is Incarnation. It means “in the flesh.” God became a human being, in the flesh.

Why would God do such an outrageous thing? I think a simple, though incomplete, way to answer the question is this: Becoming the human being we know as Jesus, God was saying “yes” to the best humanness in each of us.

Obviously we will never be completely human as Jesus was. We may not live as faithfully as Jesus did, or love as completely as Jesus did. But in every moment, God realizes humanity needs a flesh-and-blood model so we know what we are capable of as humans. Jesus the model.

God lives as a real person, then, to show us that even in our imperfect living, God will not turn away from us. It’s like God doesn’t want us to settle for being, deep-down, fearful and hopeless. So God chooses to show us how to live with love, a new sense of worth, a new reason to hope.

The people who lived before Jesus’ birth had conflicting pictures of God in their minds. We still often do too. Too often, God seems perched on a heavenly throne, angry, ready to punish, seeking revenge on people who disobeyed God. Incarnation is like God still saying, “That’s not who I am. I need a new identity!”

So God decided to show that true identity in a way people might better understand. God became a human. And we still don’t understand.

In Jesus, God continually shows what is really inside of every human being – the passion for healthy life, the compassion for human and environmental life, the capacity for unlimited love and forgiveness, the courage to stand up to the horrors that happen when human beings settle for so much less than we’re created to be.

But in addition to this amazing affirmation of the true human value we have deep, deep inside of us, there is another side. What we call Incarnation, kids, is filled with truly unanswerable questions and contradictions. Why can’t we live in that amazing affirmation all the time? We live with a Christmas paradox!

For complicated reasons, we just don’t seem to believe that we are as lovable as God thinks. So we can project that disbelief, our fears, our shallowness, on “others” – LGBT people, immigrants, persons of different ethnic or income “classes.” It’s like we want God – or someone else – to see we are “only human” – the bad human.

Yet God stubbornly hangs in with us. God acts through other people to remind us that we are indeed loved, are love-able, even capable of positive changes in our lives. The deeper down we experience being loved by others, the better the chance we’ll realize God loves us through them.

You see, kids, God’s Incarnation is not just through Jesus. We embody God living among us “in the flesh” every day – not just Dec. 25 or whenever Jesus was actually born. We are God’s new identity also! Wow!

Incarnationally, Grampa

The Rev. Paul Graves, a Sandpoint resident and retired United Methodist minister, can be contacted at

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