By Jim Tune
“‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’)” (Matthew 1:23).
We build our walls and we call it peace. In Northern Ireland, miles and miles of “peace walls” snake through Belfast and some other cities to separate Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods. The first walls were built in 1969 during the outbreak of “the Troubles.” Even since the Good Friday peace agreement was finally reached in 1998, many miles of new walls have been built.
Forty-eight peace walls exist in Northern Ireland today. They divide streets, backyards, and even parks where Protestants and Catholics walk less than 10 feet apart. Where gardens once bloomed, dark shadows are cast by 25-foot tall, stark, gray walls. It has the ring of Orwellian Newspeak: peace walls—walls that keep all the divisions intact. We build our walls; we call it peace.
On a visit to Berlin in 1987, President Ronald Reagan gave a speech that came to define both his presidency and an era. Standing at the Brandenburg Gate, steps away from the wall that divided West Berlin from Soviet-controlled East Berlin, Reagan announced to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, “If you seek peace . . . come here to this gate. . . . Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
A wall can be a useful thing. It can temporarily secure borders and protect people from one another, but it can’t bring true peace. When I think of a wall, these words come to mind: separation, isolation, segregation, and alienation. But there is a word that can tear down any wall: incarnation. Immanuel. God with us.
At Christmas, God, in Christ, entered into hostile territory and “destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14). Christ assumed humanness in order to redeem humankind. The incarnation lies at the very heart of God’s redemptive plan.
Michael Spencer put it like this:
Without the incarnation, Christianity isn’t even a very good story, and most sadly, it means nothing. “Be nice to one another” is not a message that can give my life meaning, assure me of love beyond brokenness, and break open the dark doors of death with the key of hope.
The incarnation is a picture of God’s plan for the ministry of reconciliation. As God is with us, we are called to be in the flesh with the “other.” Amidst others. Serving others. Side by side with others. Loving others. Building bridges and tearing down walls.
Incarnation. God with us.