As for many of us, my life hasn't been particularly easy. At times there have been moments when I have felt as if God had abandoned me.
During one of those moments I cried out to God, desperate to hear something that could help me. As I prayed, I had a strong sense that God was telling me I needed him with skin on.
That was it. That was exactly what I needed. I needed God with skin on.
Ronald Rolheiser in his book The Holy Longing talks about the need for a God who has skin, that is, who is physically real and touchable. He says: 'Physicality is important in any relationship and especially in the most important of relationships.'
But what did that mean? What did God with skin on look like? Where is this God that we can touch, feel, smell, see, hear?
When Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12, 'You are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it' I don't believe that was simply a metaphor to prove his point. I think he was saying that if we are believers in Jesus Christ and his Spirit is in us then each one of us with our skin, our flesh and our bones makes up the body of Christ quite literally. The body of Christ is God with skin on.
This does not mean we are God incarnate. In less than a month we will be celebrating the day when the amazing incarnation of God becoming flesh in Jesus took place, when the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. Jesus was God with skin on, God in flesh.
Over the past few years, I've read books and heard sermons encouraging us to move out from our Sunday meetings and our holy huddles and 'incarnate', immerse ourselves in our communities. I'm totally on board with this but I've also heard and read that we should be Jesus to others. People have even said to me, 'You may be the only Jesus that people will ever meet.'
That doesn't sit comfortably with me. It also feels like a huge burden to bear. Because if I'm Jesus I'm responsible for people's salvation – but only he can do that. I'm not able to be Jesus, nor am I meant to be.
So if we're not God incarnate but we are the body of Christ, what is that supposed to look like?
In The Message, Eugene Peterson interprets John 1:14 as, 'The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood." I love that. Jesus moved into the neighbourhood and the neighbourhood was never the same again.
What would happen if Jesus moved into our neighbourhood? Can you imagine Jesus living next door?
I believe Jesus has moved into our neighbourhoods through us. We're not responsible for being Jesus to people, but we are responsible for carrying him to people. We are made in his image and we are entrusted to reflect all that he is: love, grace, peace, joy, kindness, mercy, justice, hope, acceptance, inclusion, healing, goodness.
As I explored the idea of the church being God with skin on, I recognised that our first response, to those in need, is to pray. Prayer is intrinsic to who we are as Christ followers and foundational to everything we do, prayer changes things. However, I came to realise that we might actually be the answer to our prayers. We might be part of the solution.
When I've gone through difficult times, I've not only needed people to pray for breakthrough, I've needed them to be the breakthrough. When I was lonely, I needed someone to be with me; when my car broke down, I needed someone to fix it; when I couldn't afford to buy a coat for my daughter, I needed someone to provide one. I needed the pray-ers to be the providers and helpers. I needed God with skin on.
The church is the body of Christ Jesus and all that God is, because of his Spirit within us, is brought into every circumstance, every moment, every action. When someone needs to speak, we are God's ear listening; when someone needs to cry, we are God's shoulder to lean on; when someone needs a meal, we are God cooking it for them; when someone needs a lift, we are God driving them; when someone hurts, we are God holding them; when someone needs money, we are God providing for them. We are God with skin on.
As the most wonderful time of the year approaches and as we make plans to celebrate the amazing and extraordinary day that the Word became flesh, let's not just celebrate in our church buildings. Let's incarnate ourselves in our communities, making our home in the neighbourhood, because Jesus is alive and his body is their neighbour.
Mandy Bayton is The Cinnamon Network Advisor for Wales and a freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter @mandyebayton