by the Rev. Christopher Potter, Vicar
Incarnation is, I believe, at the heart of what we celebrate during the Seasons of Advent and Christmas. I also believe there is greater benefit for keeping the focus on this and not so much on the ‘coming of the baby Jesus,’ and his birthday. Though we do celebrate the birth of God-made-flesh, this, I think, is different than celebrating the “birthday of Jesus.”
Incarnation means literally, “to make into flesh.” In church-speak, we use this word to describe the remarkable act of God when God chose to become flesh. In doing so, God made the first move to reconcile human beings to God. The chasm between the extravagant love of God and the ability of human beings to live into that love is wide. Becoming ‘one of us’ provides for us a model of how to be in relationship with God that is both human (i.e., fraught with foibles), and divine (i.e., able to make the most of love). Jesus was both human and divine. He had foibles and he was divine. Though it makes little difference in how it is expressed, I believe naming Jesus a spiritual being on a physical plane, as opposed to a physical being on a spiritual plane, opens the way for us to see his – and our – true nature: we are spiritual, divine creatures working to integrate our two natures with the advantage of beginning+ from the spiritual.
I have shared with you before my joy in an Anglican tradition: Anglicans identify as “Incarnation (or “Christmas”) Christians.” This means that the healing work of God, the reconciliation of God with humanity, begins and ends with the Incarnation of Jesus. If we needed to be “saved,” it is in the birth of God-made-flesh that salvation is won. Salvation is in this divine act, this “first move” towards reconciliation takes place. God is first to move towards us. Though I love (read, “prefer”) the liturgies of Holy Week and Easter, it is in the stories of Christmas where my hope for humanity is found, where the vision of the world as God intends it becomes as clear as a star in the midnight sky.
This perspective is different from those defining themselves as Good Friday, Death-of-Jesus Christians. These good people find God’s healing work in the atoning death of God’s son who required the life of his son for our sins. Consider that this requires us to accept a God who sacrifices his son (unlike what happened with Abraham to whom God promised that kind of sacrifice will never again be asked) for the sake of MY (our) sins. This is called “substitutionary atonement” because Jesus is the substitute who takes punishment for my sins. Again, I claim only a perspective and opinion; I make no assertion to truth on this issue. Thus, what makes me increasingly uncomfortable is by making God somehow responsible for the death of Jesus, it takes away from us one of the truths of his death: that we have the capacity for such hatred and self-centeredness that we will kill the good to sate our hunger in order to prove ourselves RIGHT. Holding that the Creator asked (demanded) the brutal homicide of Jesus makes personal and corporate accountability optional in the process of reconciliation. I know that scripture — especially St. Paul — suggests that the death of Jesus is the atoning work of God. I also know that Gospel of John contends that Jesus, present from the beginning of creation, is reconciling us in every act of creation, love, grace, mercy, and justice. I believe that best describes the scene at Christmas.
So, what of Incarnation and us today? All of us, all parts of us, are both physical and divine. Historically, from the earliest influences of the Gnostic and Greek anthropologists, we have been told and taught that the body is evil, a necessary evil at best. The church has had a difficult time coming to terms with this, at one time denying that Jesus was human at all! Most of us were in church when we were first told that sex and sexuality were sinful. Maybe not so overt was the teachings that human joys, comforts, pain, and suffering were to be overcome and ignored by the ‘good Christian.’ “Less me, more Jesus” might be an attempt to denigrate our physical existence in favor of living the perfect spiritual life. The Incarnation, if nothing else, teaches us that these two are not incompatible.
Incarnation is a lifting up and an elevation of the physical nature of human beings while linking it to the divine. The full impact of God-made-flesh requires us to see our bodies as gift, our selves as God’s presence in and with us. With an unflinching gaze, when Jesus heals broken bodies, cures illnesses, and reconciles the marginalized, I think we are forced to admit that Jesus is honoring the human body, he loves it, raises it up and respects it.
This Advent, St. John’s will celebrate the human being and our physical nature in word, song, and sacrament. Through our preaching, Reverend Karen and I will endeavor to elevate our consciousness to find an appreciation for and perhaps to come to love our physical bodies. In one Season, we may not reverse the effects of 2,300 years of negative ‘programming’ about our bodies. However, we hope that it might inspire us (literally, to bring SPIRIT into ourselves) to explore how our physical body and all its component parts are a blessing from God. In order, during the four weeks of Advent, we will look for, point out and celebrate God’s blessings and love for us with a focus on our Heart, our Skin, our Lungs, and our Stomach.
We commend to you the excellent book, Marvelously Made: Gratefulness and the Body by Mary C. Earle. No accident that Mary Earle is an Episcopal Priest!
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> Our Thanksgiving Food Drive needs volunteers and food! It winds up Wednesday, November 17 with distribution of food bags at the RSM Cares Food Pantry. Come help pack food bags today and Sunday on the courtyard, 1 p.m. Details and shopping list here.
> Remember to turn in your promise cards at church this weekend or mail them to the church office, 30382 Via Con Dios, RSM, 92688. Thank you!
> Three-mile moderate out-and-back hike in O’Neill Park following Sunday’s 8 a.m. worship service with Erin Schwarz and Andrea Patton. Women, children, men: bring water, a hat, and sunscreen.
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We’ll see you at St. John’s.