And the Word became flesh
and made his dwelling among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory as of the Father’s only Son,
full of grace and truth.
From his fullness we have all received,
grace upon grace.
In the Old Testament, God manifested His presence to His chosen people the Israelites through the Ark of the Covenant, a sacred dwelling place in which the Law was kept. This tabernacle covered with a large tent was the constant reminder of God’s presence in the midst of His people, and of His
faithfulness to His covenant.
When we read in John’s Gospel that “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us,” the Greek verb which we usually translate as “made his dwelling” literally means “He pitched his tent”. God has pitched his tent in our midst! Sacred Scripture describes the Incarnation in powerful and concrete terms, revealing to us that the Son, eternally united with the Father and the Spirit in the intimate embrace of the Trinity, “pitches his tent” among us.
Now, pitching a tent isn’t the easiest of undertakings — and it certainly wasn’t any simpler for ancient Israel. Think of the work involved in transporting all the components (no cars or planes to help!), finding an adapt terrene, assembling all the pieces, and reinforcing it against wind and rain. Though modern man may go camping for fun, pitching your tent in ancient times was not exactly a vacation.
French author and poet Charles Péguy describes the essence of Christianity in this way: “A God, my friend, God went out of His way, God sacrificed himself for me. He had no need of us whatsoever. And Jesus could have simply remained carefree in heaven before this crucial moment of creation, before the incarnation, before the redemption. He was completely undisturbed in paradise and had no need of us. So why did He come?”
Why did He come, if not for love? Why did he come if not to be with us? A lover has no greater desire than to simply be with the beloved. Nothing can substitute that being with the beloved, because we are made for communion, for intimacy, in the image of our God who is Love, who is communion, whose very life is a constant pulsing dynamic of giving and receiving.
Whereas our human calculations tell us to pitch tents only on level ground, far from swamps, and sheltered from canyons and cliffs, divine folly does not respect this logic. If God were to reason as we do, He would have stuck to the comfort of heaven. But a lover does not calculate the cost, and even though the terrene He finds is the weak and fragile flesh of our humanity, He is not afraid to pitch His tent. St. Paul reminds us that our weakness is actually Christ’s chosen land: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell [pitch it’s tent] with me” (2 Cor 12:19). Yet again, this verb for “dwelling” is literally “to pitch one’s tent”. Yes, His power resides precisely in that fragile, weed-ridden, sandy, rocky soil; He is not afraid of the mud and dirt, He is not afraid of our sinfulness. He has forever espoused our humanity and will never let go.
This Christmas may we rest in awe and gratitude as we contemplate a Love so great. The words of Catholic singer-songwriter Audrey Assad can help us to dwell on this mystery of the Incarnation (from her song “Humble”):
Humble and Human, willing to bend You are
Fashioned of flesh and the fire of life, You are
Not to proud to wear our skin
To know this weary world we’re in
Humble, humble Jesus.
And the Word became flesh, and pitched His tent among us.