[ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jonathan Slywka is still a prairie boy at heart, and still longing for mountains on which to ride his bike. He still loves snow (though not nearly as much as he did last year at this time) and gingerbread. He loves his wife Sarah more than ever.]
Last year at this time, in the introduction to my blog entry, I made the statement that I am “astounded by the Incarnation”. Well, I still am, and I would like to try to explain why.
When we talk about the Incarnation we mean our belief that Jesus of Nazareth – a man who was born and lived in Palestine at the time of Caesar Augustus, who gathered many followers throughout his ministry of teaching and healing, who was crucified by the Jewish religious leaders and Roman Imperial authority, and who was testified to have risen from the dead and ascended to heaven by his disciples – was, in fact, God himself, in human flesh. This was a shocking and provocative claim at the time – described by Paul as “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” – and it is shocking and provocative still. But we believe it. Don’t we?
I have come to question whether I really do, at times. I know that I often fail to appreciate the full meaning of the Incarnation. I settle for an idea of God which places him high above and apart from the messiness and imperfection of the world around me. But I must not do this – he will not let me do this – because scripture paints a very different picture, making the outrageous claim that God, the creator of heaven and earth, became created, in a sense – he was born, and grew, and learned, and laughed, and cried, and loved. He was, in every sense, exactly like all of us. Yet, he was, at the same time, nothing like all of us. That is what is meant when we say he was “fully God and fully man”.
Our whole faith depends on our belief in this incarnate Son of God. Dietrich Bonhoeffer has said:
Christianity without the living Christ is inevitably Christianity without discipleship, and Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ. It remains an abstract idea, a myth which has a place for the Fatherhood of God, but omits Christ as the living Son…Because the Son of God became man, because he is the Mediator, for that reason alone the only true relation we can have with him is to follow him.
This belief has profound implications for our lives as followers of Jesus Christ. There is no separation of the physical from the spiritual; of the secular from the sacred. Now we realize that our whole lives as embodied creatures hold a great deal more importance than we sometimes thought, because we believe that God himself is incarnate – embodied in the person of Jesus. And now we also understand that these whole lives of ours are to be lived in obedience to this God, who is, in every sense, “with us”.
In keeping with the theme of Songs of the Season, I would like to share a song which beautifully expresses the astounding truth of the Incarnation. The song is called Descent, and is sung by Steve Bell, borrowing the words of a poem written by Malcolm Guite. The words contrast the gods of ancient Rome – who towered above the earth and exploited it for their own selfish purposes – with the God of the Bible – who gave of his own self, in order to reconcile all things to himself through Christ. But as you listen, try not to dismiss the misunderstandings of others without also confessing the ways in which we fail to understand, to appreciate, the full meaning of the Incarnation.