by the Rev. Christopher Potter, Vicar
The gift from God that is incarnation extends from the first moment of creation to the very moment you are reading this. Making Godself visible in the created order is, I believe, the crux of why God creates. When I look at beautiful paintings by Vermeer or sit with an orchestration of Chopin’s Piano Concerto (which can bring me to tears), I am invited into the heart and soul of the author. When I sit outside in the pre-dawn hours and catch sight of the constellations and movements of planets, I am transported to the nature of God as I watch the order and creativity that keeps such astronomically huge worlds in seeming harmony.
No revelatory creation is perfect; for nothing – save perhaps God – is perfect. It is not what appears to be perfection nor their colors nor their harmonies that draw me into the mysteries of art, but the presence of a piece of their creators in the art that seizes me through my senses. A defect spotted in a created work reveals to the attentive just as much about the artist as the colors, chords, and cosmological laws used in the body of the work.
Their incarnationality (not really a word) draws magic and mystery, first from how much of the artist put into their works and then by how I access it by being fully present to them. The qualitative difference between ‘noticing’ and ‘entering into’ a piece of art is the difference between sitting on a chair in front of Vermeer’s “Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window” and seeing the painting miniaturized on a postage stamp. Incarnation reaches its zenith only when the observer is fully alive, fully attentive to the creation.
As it applies to the season of Advent and Christmas, incarnation is more like the cosmos and like Chopin’s music than like a Vermeer painting. Too often, incarnation is consigned to the historic event of the birth of Jesus – as if to exhaust its significance by what happened in a microcosmic second of time two millennia ago. In a spiritual sense, incarnation both preceded and followed the birth of Jesus every time and anytime the creative acts of God are employed.
Incarnation is a lively piece of art that is both reflective of all others and unique in its application. Like music and the stars in the sky, there is liveliness in incarnation that is interpreted, complex, incomprehensible, and infinitely beautiful.
As Christians, we have had quite a mixed history with the appreciation of incarnation. While it might be easy to confess incarnation in the “Word made flesh” in Jesus, we are not so quick to identify the presence of the living God in our bodies, in our minds, and souls. Especially when we discover how fallible and failing our bodies can become. Perspective is everything. From the perspective of those of us in the ‘second half of life,’ we may find ourselves alienated from the God-in-us when our bones and souls ache with age. From the same perspective, older folks can become envious and bitter towards those who are much younger and who look like beautiful pieces of art, even when we never saw ourselves as such. This bitterness can turn inward or become an underpinning in our approaches to life, love, God, faith.
And don’t get me started on the struggles of youth who are so pushed and pulled by social pressures and media about their physical selves – how they look, how big or small they are, how they are measured by standards that most of us had never to face while we were growing up.
I think a challenge for us all is to recognize and appreciate the presence of God in ourselves. First. Regardless of our age, health, or social pressures. To know this and to be fully alive and fully aware of — God’s presence in the created order is to make the purpose of incarnation more accessible to us. Understanding the presence of God in us ALL makes us far more resistant to hatred, prejudice, polarization, bigotry, and the destructive forces that comes from comparing ourselves to others.
The miracle of the Incarnation of God in Christ isn’t Jesus’ birthday; it is the birth of a perspective on the human condition that we are, always have been, and can live as one being with God, because this is our nature.
NOTE: Advent begins this Sunday. The Advent wreath, or Advent crown, is a Christian tradition that symbolizes the passage of the four weeks of Advent in the liturgical calendar of the Western church. You’ll find instructions to help you make your own Advent wreath right here. The wreath is a circle of greenery, marked by four candles that represent the four Sundays of the season of Advent. An additional candle is lit as each new Sunday is celebrated in Advent. Advent wreaths are used both in churches and in homes for devotional purposes. The candles may be blue, purple, or lavender, depending on local custom. Some Advent wreaths include a white candle in the center known as the “Christ Candle,” which is lit on Christmas Eve.
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We’ll see you at St. John’s.