The stairs creaked under my bare feet as I trudged up to my writing nook, rubbing sleep out of my eyes and gripping a mug of black coffee. It was 5 o’clock in the morning. Winter rain drummed the roof; our already-soggy yard would be a mess by sunrise.
But right now, the rain provided me with some soothing background noise as I cracked open my Bible. I’d decided the day before that it was time to delve into the Gospels, and I was nervous. It wasn’t as if I’d never read them before. In fact, I’d probably read them dozens of times.
But that was the problem. I’d read them so many times, they bored me to tears.
“Familiarity breeds contempt,” according to the old sages—yet I’m inclined to think familiarity is far more likely to breed indifference. I grew up in a Christian home (a fact for which I am deeply grateful) where the Word of God was and continues to be treasured. I was also a voracious reader who knew her Bible backwards and forwards from a young age. I especially loved the stories of King David, Moses, and Esther. They appealed to my budding storyteller’s craving for adventure and underdog heroes.
The Gospels, however, always disappointed me. It seemed as if Jesus did very little except walk from town to town, delivering sermon after sermon and saying “Truly, truly” one too many times. John the Baptist, storming around in his camel skin clothes and sassing his opponents till the cows came home, was a much more interesting figure.
Perhaps I could blame a cinematic production I watched as a child in which Jesus was portrayed as languid and moralizing. Or maybe my imagination simply suffered from disenchantment early on.
Whatever the case, I felt a bit like Saint Augustine on this rainy winter morning. I didn’t have kids dancing beneath my window singing, “Pick up and read, pick up and read!”—but I was aware of the Holy Spirit’s firm and insistent leading.
“You’ve got it all wrong,” the Spirit said to me. “Somewhere along the way, you forgot that this is the story of the greatest hero and the greatest rescue mission of all time. Give it another chance. Receive it with your imagination wide open this time…and see what happens.”
So morning after morning, in obedience, I’ve read my Bible and taken notes, making a conscious effort to peel away the popular storybook and movie images in my head. I’ve spent a great deal of time in the past year meditating on the Incarnation, but what I had forgotten was that Jesus didn’t just walk around in a human body. He took on human life. Human existence. Human frailty. Human needs, wants, hopes, and even fears.
He never sinned, of course. He was fully God as well as fully man. But He was fully man. This is the mystery of the Incarnation…as well as its joy.
As I’ve made a conscious effort to imagine Jesus Himself—His actions, His voice, and even His facial expressions—here’s what I’ve remembered and discovered:
In the virgin womb of a Hebrew girl, God the Son took on human flesh. Nine months later, amid her blood, sweat, and tears, He was born in a smelly Bethlehem stable.
He ate, drank, and slept just like every other human. He was brilliant—a child prodigy capable of debating his elders in the Temple—yet he submitted to His parents’ concerns, took up His father’s trade, yielded to His mother’s not-at-all-subtle request for a miracle, and firmly resisted His brothers’ scorn and unbelief.
He raged against the corruption in the Temple. He engaged tainted women in kind, intelligent conversation. He blessed and cradled little children. He teased James and John with fond nicknames, yet “withdrew to a quiet place” when the clamor around Him became too much. He knew how to prepare a hearty meal. He was tempted just as we are—and He was no stranger to fear.
These intimate glimpses into Jesus’ life and character are scattered throughout the Gospels, more frequent and vivid than I ever realized. And they make me wonder: what other intensely human, ordinary things might He have experienced? Did He jump at a crack of thunder or marvel at sunsets? Did He laugh uproariously at a younger sibling’s antics? Yelp when He stubbed His toe?
Did He ever turn a piece of wood or stone in His hands and carve intricate designs into the blank space, for no other reason than to create something beautiful?
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth…For from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” ~ John 1:14, 16
The more I read, the more I fall in love with this three-dimensional, larger-than-life Savior who puts even the noblest of fictional characters to shame. Superman and Captain America have nothing on Jesus. Even their finest character qualities are only mere reflections of His goodness.
But I’ve also realized something else—something that’s having a profound impact on my small, everyday life. Jesus despised the shame of the cross, but He didn’t despise His ordinary existence here on Earth. His first thirty years were spent in an unimportant village where things were quiet, unobtrusive, and monotonous. Yet all indications suggest that He grounded himself in that life. To borrow an old cliché, He bloomed where he was planted.
Yes, we receive Jesus’ life when we accept His gift of salvation. But it goes even deeper than that. Receiving His life also means receiving His joy, His courage, and His willingness to accept and embrace the often humiliating realities of our everyday existence.
Receiving His life means tackling that stack of homework, remembering that even Jesus had to learn how to read (Luke 4:16-21).
It means facing that painful relationship, reminding yourself that He also endured scorn and cruelty—and that from His own brothers (John 7:1-10).
It means nursing that illness or injury, comforting yourself with the fact that He, too, knew the burden of physical pain (Mark 15:15-24).
It means laboring over and loving your art, keeping in mind the truth that even on earth He knew the joy of creating something beautiful (John 2:6-11).
Receiving Christ’s life even means, during this somber season, that we can look our own fear of death in the eye…because although Jesus knew fear in the Garden of Gethsemane, He surrendered His terrors to His Father (Matthew 26:36-29).
Receiving Jesus’ life means even more than receiving His free, grace-filled gift of eternal life. It means living as He did: fully present and accounted for.
If this is what I gain from delving into the Gospels with my imagination wide open, then I definitely want more of Him…and His life.
The featured of a Narcissus Blossom in a Tree is courtesy of Julie Jablonski and is used here with her gracious permission for Cultivating and The Cultivating Project.
Maribeth Barber is a small-town Southern girl captivated by stories, the beauty and lovingkindness of her Savior, and the power of the contemplative, Christ-centered life. During her years as a homeschool student, she developed a fierce love for history, literature, and film; these passions have inspired her own writing as a novelist and a blogger. She reviews books, movies, and television from the angle of a Christ-saturated imagination at maribethbarber.com while also pursuing publication of her debut novel. A hobbit at heart, she lives with her parents and six of her eight younger siblings on their hobby farm in Louisiana.