by Tony Tucker
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14 ESV)
It was a love for history that made me do it. As a young assistant principal at my alma mater, I was only a few months removed from the classroom. I was enjoying the challenges of my new position, but truly missed the day to day interaction with the students in my social studies classes.
When the call went out for an administrator to accompany a large group of art students to Birmingham, I quickly volunteered. A display of the Terra Cotta soldiers from the Qin Dynasty of China was touring the U.S. and would be at the museum in Birmingham, Alabama just 150 miles away. For me, this was a rare opportunity. I had only recently returned from China to bring our adopted daughter home. I had seen the Great Wall (if only from the aircraft), I had been to the Forbidden City, the Emperor’s Palace, and Tiananmen Square. I have always been fascinated with this archaeological find and could not wait to see this display of just a few of the soldiers, a horse and chariot.
We were briefed in the lobby of the museum before being allowed into the limited access room that housed the exhibit. I was excited, as were teachers. The students were almost lethargic as this was only one of several stops we made that day. My efforts to explain the significance of what we were about to see seemed to fall on deaf ears with the students.
As we entered the room, the first thing I noticed was the large number of plain clothes security officers that were in the room. As if the dozen warning signs in the briefing and display rooms reading “Please do not touch the artifacts,” were not enough, they were courteous enough to avail us these blazer clad gentlemen in case any of our kids had a momentary lapse of memory and judgement.
There I was, standing among these proud soldiers, a dozen of more than 6000 excavated in 1974. I was fascinated. I love history. If people would read more history, they would understand more about where we are, and where we are headed as a civilization. A lot has changed in the last 2000 years, many technological innovations, but history is personality driven, and human nature has not changed. To say I became caught up in the moment would be an understatement. These warriors were carved two centuries before Christ walked the earth and were discovered accidentally in the early 70’s by Chinese farmers who were digging a well. Each soldier had unique facial features, and there I stood among them in a museum, separated only by a rope and stand. The stoic comrades stood vigilant in perpetual guard over China’s first emperor just as they had done for two millennia.
They were in remarkably good condition and looking into the eyes of each one, I marveled at the artistry and craftsmanship that had gone into the carving of each individual. As I gazed at them, I was able to look beyond the warrior, and see the man in each of them. I read history, I study history, I even collect Native American and Civil War relics, but in that moment, I was standing in the midst of history, just 18 inches away from the nearest warrior.
The high pitched but low tone of the alarm was enough to bring me back to the modern age immediately. Caught up in the moment, a discreet, yet audible alarm had sounded as I had reached out my hand and with the tips of my fingers gently touched the chest armor breast plate of this ancient warrior. Almost immediately, I was approached by a security officer.
“Sir,” the gentleman said, “We think someone in your party may have touched one of the artifacts.”
Very anxious to find out how much the officer knew, and to make myself part of the solution and not part of the problem, I leaned in toward him, making eye contact and ask very softly “Did you happen to get a look at who did it?”
“No sir” he replied. “But I think it is safe to say that it was a member of your party.”
Breathing a silent sigh of relief I gave a nod, a half wink and a pat on the shoulder that would reassure the greatest of skeptics and told him that I would speak with our group and personally guaranteed him that what had just occurred would not happen again.
The meeting with the teachers and students was quick and easy due to the fact that no one had seen me touch the soldier. With the guise of complete moral authority, or at least as much as a guilty party could muster up, I gave them the standard “remember we are guests here and these are precious pieces of history that cannot be replaced and we absolutely cannot touch them’ speech. It seemed to resonate with everyone although it did raise some speculation as to who may have done it. One young lady even came to me and shared the name of another student whom she suspected may have been the guilty party. I thanked her profusely for confiding her suspicions in me and assured her that I would keep her name out of it. That wasn’t hard to do when I knew the matter started and would end with me.
Now obviously I knew it was wrong to touch the statues. I did not arrive that day intending to do so and I certainly would not have done it had I know they were wired to alarm at the touch. I simply got caught up in the moment.
As much as this exhibit touched me and captured my imagination, I am even more overwhelmed by the words of John 1:14. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” John used the Greek word “logos” to describe the incarnate Jesus Christ. He was the only disciple to use it and he only used it a handful of times in the five books of the New Testament that he wrote. It was John’s way of saying that in the most spectacular event in human history, God had come to earth to walk among us, to reach out to us, and to touch us in both the physical and spiritual sense.
The Terra Cotta soldiers in their ancient splendor pale in comparison to this. The Word became flesh! These words had never been uttered before. It is mind boggling to even consider it. It is difficult to comprehend and most people don’t even bother. We readily embrace the cries of the babe in the manger in Bethlehem, but His significance is somewhat lost on the words Jesus of Nazareth. This is more than God. This is God coming to earth in the form of human flesh, and reaching out to touch me, living the life that I could not live, to bear the sin that was mine to bear, and to live through me as I yield my life to him. All of the sin that I could commit would not disqualify me of his forgiveness. Only my pride would hold him at arm’s length for years until I would come to the end of myself and my resources and become overwhelmed by his abounding grace.
As we celebrate the Advent, I am thankful for the birth of the Word and for His touch upon my life. We prepare to face a new year with many unknowns looming over us. Some of us will go along as we always have, day in and day out wrongfully assuming that mankind can be the source of the solution to the problems we have created. We put our trust in elected officials and then fail to understand when they don’t live up to their promises and our expectations. The truth is they, just as we, are frail and even more fragile than soldiers carved from clay. The good news is that the God of the universe became flesh and dwelt among us. He wants to reach out and touch us and have a relationship with us. Knowing him doesn’t solve all of our problems in this life because we still live in a broken and fallen world, but it does bring peace, endurance and understanding for our journey home. It is a dangerous world and we do not know what the future holds but we do know who ultimately holds the future in the palm of His hand.
The first advent was the birth of Jesus Christ. This is the person John speaks of. His birth was the single greatest act of God breaking into human history that has ever occurred. It will not be His last. We should never celebrate the first advent (Christmas) without anticipating His second advent when the Word shall return to earth, not as lowly Jesus meek and mild born in a stable, but as the Cosmic Christ, Lord of the universe, returning to claim those whom He has touched and marked as His own.
In a turbulent world that tries to mock the message of “peace on earth, good will to men (Luke 2:14b),” I can take comfort in “He who knew me before he formed me in my mother’s womb.” (Jeremiah 1:5) During this holiday season, may you feel the blessing of his peaceful and abiding presence. May He touch your life exactly at your point of need.
May God be with you now and always!
Anthony D. Tucker serves as Head of School at Hickory Valley Christian School in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He is a Ruling Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America. He and his wife Cindy and daughter Leighanne reside in Lookout Mountain, Georgia. They are members of Lookout Mountain Presbyterian Church and Tony also serves as Interim Pastor of Kelly’s Chapel Cumberland Presbyterian Church.