What I Learned about the Incarnation from Navy SEALs

by Josh Meyer, Leadership Minister (Franconia congregation)

One of the earliest Christians, a man named Paul, writes about something called “the life that is truly life.”  That’s what God desires for us: full, abundant, thriving lives which are marked by things like hope, love, joy, and peace.  The problem is we live in a broken world and therefore fall short of God’s dream for our lives.  We aren’t living the life that is truly life because we’re held captive by other forces, other desires, other sinful patterns of behavior. 

Consider your own life this Advent.  Is there anything that’s holding you back?  Is there anything preventing you from living the life God desires for you?  Maybe it’s skepticism or anxiety or fear.  Maybe it’s insecurity or loneliness or jealousy.  Maybe it’s anger or bitterness or simply a gnawing sense that there’s got to be more to life than what you’re experiencing. 

Jesus comes to rescue us from sin and brokenness and anything that does not lead to life.  And the remarkable thing is how God initiates that divine rescue mission.

Incarnation.

Jesus comes, a newborn sent to a poor, oppressed, occupied people.  This is unexpected and seems unnecessary.  Couldn’t Jesus have rescued us and redeemed the world in a grander, nobler way?  Why this?  Why incarnation?   

A couple years ago I heard about a covert operation that took place in a dangerous part of the world.  A team of Navy SEALs was sent to rescue hostages who were being held captive.  They flew in by helicopter, made their way to the compound, and created a diversion which drew the guards away. 

The SEALs then stormed into the room where the hostages were being held.  These people had been captive for months, the room was dark and dirty, and they were all curled up in the corner, completely terrified.  The SEALs knew they only had a few moments before the guards returned, so they stood at the door, motioning to the prisoners: “Come on, let’s go, you’re free – hurry, hurry!” 

No matter how much they implored, however, the hostages didn’t follow.  They stayed huddled on the floor, cowering in fear, unable to even make eye contact.  They didn’t recognize that the SEALs were there to rescue them, not to harm them.  Perhaps this was an elaborate trick by their captors?    

The SEALs didn’t initially know how to respond.  There wasn’t enough time to individually carry each person out before the enemy returned, but no matter how much they reassured the hostages, the captives couldn’t follow. 

Finally, one of the SEALs got an idea.  He took off his helmet, laid aside his weapon, and stepped into the room.  He walked over to the frightened, dirty prisoners and laid down with them.  He curled up tightly next to them, getting so close that his body was touching some of theirs.  He softened his expression and put his arms around them.  He stayed there for a moment – with them, one of them – humbling himself in a way the prison guards never would have done. 

Finally, some of the prisoners managed to meet his eyes, and there, face-to-face, flesh-to-flesh, he whispered, “We’ve come to set you free.  Will you follow us?”  As he stood to his feet, one of the hostages did the same, and then another, and another, until eventually the entire room followed him to freedom. 

I don’t know what may be holding you back right now. 

I don’t know what’s preventing you from living the life that is truly life

But I do know that we have a Savior, a Rescuer, who doesn’t just call to us from afar to follow.  The incarnation is the provocative, compelling, subversive, beautiful insistence that Jesus meets us in the mess and the brokenness of our lives; he takes on flesh so we can know that he is with us and for us.  And the decision faced by those hostages huddled in the corner of that dirty room on the other side of the world is the same decision you and I face every day:  

Our rescuer is here, among us.  Will you allow yourself to be set free?