The Incarnation- I Didn’t Know Jesus was Like That

I grew up in the church- so it was surprising to get to college and realize that I didn’t really know Jesus at all. Jesus seemed irrelevant. How could I possibly relate to this weird guy in a dress knocking on this old timey door?


The gift that my college ministry gave me,  was introducing me to a compelling picture of Jesus in the Bible. They helped the Bible come alive and suddenly Jesus was three dimensional.  After reading Henri Nouwen’s Compassion I was taken by the significance of the incarnation. And as I began to volunteer in inner city LA, and travelled to Tanzania to volunteer with AIDs orphans, and worked with college students of all stripes, I began to gather my thoughts on what I find to be compelling about the incarnation of Jesus.

When we are in pain, feeling alone can make things even worse. Through his incarnation Jesus chose to draw near to the lives and personal experiences of those in pain in an intimate way.

I shared these reflections at a conference a couple weekends ago. And thought I would share them with you.



Jesus was born the illegitimate child of a teenage mom, and raised by a man who was not his biological father.

So every inner city kid born to a teenage mom and every kid raised by someone who isn’t their biological father can know that Jesus is good news to them, because he chose to be just like them.

Jesus was born under an unjust political regime that forced his family to flee from the Middle East to Northern Africa as political refugees. 

So every diplaced person, every person in a refugee camp, every person living under political oppression, every person that has crossed a border out of desperation, can know that Jesus is good news because he is just like them. When he came to earth he chose a life that was just like theirs.

Jesus returned from Egypt and grew up in a small town doing manual labor. He never owned a home and described his own life as one where he had no place to lay his head.

So everyone who works in manual labor to earn a days wages knows that Jesus can relate. Every homeless person on the streets knows that Jesus is good news, because Jesus himself chose to be homeless.

 At the end of his life Jesus was arrested on trumped up charges, suffered police brutality, and capital punishment with two hardened criminals at his side and a racial slur over his head.

 So every victim of racial profiling, every person that has experienced police brutality, every prisoner on death row, and person under a violent government can know Jesus has drawn close.

 Jesus was able to debate with the best thinkers and teachers of his time. He schooled them in public debate. He moved in well respected circles and constantly shocked the refined with his tendency to party with the equivalent of drug dealers, corrupt wall street traders, drunken partiers, and hookers.

Jesus was unexpected, unconventional, and challenging. He was radically compassionate, upset by hypocrisy, a vibrant public speaker, and able to make the most profound theology accessible to an illiterate farmer. He was unaffected by people in power, impressively compassionate towards the poor and sick, and shockingly powerful in his authority over all things.

And this amazing person, this amazing Jesus, this amazing Messiah, came into the world and continues to come into the world.  He is coming to you and pressing into your life. He is offering you satisfaction for your soul thirst and transformation for the world you live in.


I shared this reflection with some college students from East Los Angeles a few years ago. When I paused and asked for a response  a young Latino man sitting next to me began to cry.

“What’s going on for you?” I asked.

“I didn’t know that. I didn’t have a dad. My mom was a teenager when she had me. I didn’t know Jesus was like that. He’s just like me.”

And suddenly this young man felt less alone and more known by Jesus.

Jesus’ choice to be poor, to walk this earth homeless, to suffer political oppression and violence- speaks to so many today. He is more than relevant, he chose a life that completely identifies with those on the margins on society. He is good news in so many way and I am in love with the good news of his incarnation.


5 thoughts on “The Incarnation- I Didn’t Know Jesus was Like That

  1. Amen. That was a beautiful moment. When this is who God is, it makes the world radically good, at its core. Sometimes on gloomy Seattle afternoons, a person needs to be reminded.

  2. Thank you for this post, Erna. It reminds of me of this awful yet beautiful excerpt from Corrie Ten Boom’s “The Hiding Place” about her experience in a Nazi concentration camp. Even there, Jesus has been:

    “Fridays–the recurrent humiliation of medical inspection. The hospital corridor in which we waited was unheated and a fall chill had settled into the walls. Still we were forbidden even to wrap ourselves in our own arms, but had to maintain our erect, hands-at-sides position as we filed slowly past a phalanx of grinning guards.

    How there could have been any pleasure in the sight of these stick-thin legs and hunger-bloated stomachs I could not imagine. Surely there is no more wretched sight than the human body unloved and uncared for.

    Nor could I see the necessity for the complete undressing: when we finally reached the examining room a doctor looked down each throat, another–a dentist presumably–at our teeth, a third in between each finger. And that was all. We trooped again down the long, cold corridor and picked up our X-marked dresses at the door.
    But it was one of these mornings while we were waiting, shivering in the corridor, that yet another page in the Bible leapt into life for me.

    He hung naked on the cross.

    …The paintings, the carved crucifixes showed at least a scrap of cloth. But this, I suddenly knew, was the respect and reverence of the artist. But oh–at the time itself, on that other Friday morning–there had been no reverence. No more than I saw in the faces around us now.

    ‘Betsie, they took His clothes too.’

    Ahead of me I heard a little gasp. ‘Oh, Corrie. And I never thanked Him…’”

  3. Hi Erna,
    I think a lot of your thoughts here are really powerful and resonate with me as true, but if I can push back on a few things:

    1. It was the norm in the ancient world of the NT to have a teenage mom and a dad in his late 20’s or early 30’s. So there wasn’t a stigma around this kind of relationship at that age at all–the pregnancy before the marriage, of course, was an issue. But even so, Jesus was born as a legitimate child of Joseph. It wasn’t anything like being born to a teenage mom in East LA in 2013 or having a step-dad whose name you don’t bear. Check out this link on identity mapping for more info on that, written by much smarter people than me:

    2. While it’s true that Jesus was not born into the dominant culture, but into a conquered and subjugated one, his situation is unusual in that Herod was specifically wanting to destroy him. His parents fled to protect his life, in particular. That is generally not the experience of displaced people around the world.

    3. Manual labor was the thing back then. Your dad trained you to do whatever he did and Jesus’ dad was a carpenter. If his dad had been a fisherman, Jesus would have been an apprentice for that. He didn’t choose manual labor–it chose him. There wasn’t any social or professional mobility like there is, at least, in the west and other parts of the world. Jesus chose the life of poverty unlike people in the world who suffer the evil that is poverty. Much like our friends who choose to live in the inner city in solidarity with the poor.

    Don’t get me wrong–I believe Jesus’ life to be compelling even so, but I think it’s important to be true to the biblical text in its context–the story is still powerful and applicable, and I did appreciate your post. I was especially struck by this section: “Jesus was unexpected, unconventional, and challenging. He was radically compassionate, upset by hypocrisy, a vibrant public speaker, and able to make the most profound theology accessible to an illiterate farmer. He was unaffected by people in power, impressively compassionate towards the poor and sick, and shockingly powerful in his authority over all things.”

    • Karen- I just wrote a super thought out response that got deleted and that has deflated me. Let me respond again tomorrow.
      Thanks so much for your thoughts.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *