At Christmas we celebrate that God became flesh and lived among us. We are creatures of both body and spirit. So when God comes to us, it is not as a disembodied spirit, but as one like us. Jesus did not come to take us out of our bodies, but to redeem them. Our bodies become temples of the spirit, holy and transformed.
Yet it is not our individual bodies that the New Testament calls the body of Christ. The body of Christ, in this age, is the church, and we are members of it. Like our Savior, the church is not a disembodied spirit, but a true body, empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Most of us experience belonging to the church through our involvement in a local congregation. It is there that we gather on the Sabbath to worship, join together in weekly service to our communities, and share the sorrows and joys of life throughout the year. But it is not the local congregation that is the body of Christ, although the congregation is a member of the body. One of the most transformative things that happens to those who attend their first regional or national church gathering is the experience of seeing firsthand the breadth and depth of the body to which they belong. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard an elder exclaim after attending his or her first meeting of a presbytery or a General Assembly, “I had no idea our church is all that.”
The more distant the church is from our daily experience, the easier it is to spiritualize it, to think of it as the spiritual union of those who belong to Christ and nothing more. But Christmas reminds us that our Lord and his body the church are incarnate, both spirit and flesh.
The World Communion of Reformed Churches and other ecumenical organizations do not cause the body of Christ to be unified or to be incarnate in the world. They do, however, bear tangible witness to that unity which encompasses each and every one of us. Our oneness is a gift that has already been given, a gift that we work to claim in a broken and divided world. A communion like WCRC reminds us that the hurts and joys of sisters and brothers on every continent are our hurts and joys because we are part of the same body.
In the intimacy of our homes and the closeness of our congregations we will celebrate Christmas, but along with those who are near we will sing “Joy to the World.” One of the great mysteries of Christmas is that the baby who was born in a particular place at a particular time has joined together people of every place and every time. The World Communion of Reformed Churches is a place where that mystery is lived throughout the year.