~ Ongoing Incarnation ~
Jesus Christ was not an avatar. In Eastern spiritual traditions, an avatar is divinity that appears in the physical realm in human form. Christ became flesh, was made and born human, not in form but in substance and essence. The difference is profound and essential. God is incarnational in Christ.
St. John seams to describe a pre-incarnational state of God in opening his Gospel account: "In the beginning was the Word [Logos] and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John1:1, NIV). From "the beginning" there existed a plurality in the oneness of God. Genesis 1:26 points to this, citing how God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…"
The Word and God were one from all eternity. But there was a point in time, human time, when Christ, meaning the "Anointed One," was "begotten." "But God said to him, 'You are my Son; today I have become your Father'" (Hebrews 5:5b, NIV). In a sermon given in Antioch, Paul quotes those same words when speaking of Christ's resurrection (Acts 13:33), which are taken from the prophetic decree of Psalm 2:7.
Now let's think more with "the mind of Christ" than with the mind of mortals to enter into a wondrous mystery. When Genesis records, "And God said, 'Let there be light,'" to whom was God "talking"? Speech requires a mouth to utter and ears to hear. God is Spirit and in the very beginning He had not yet "spoke" mouths or ears or eyes into being, although Scripture says "God saw that it was good." We have no vocabulary for a pre-creation state of what is actually non-existence, so we are stuck with human terms such as "said" and "saw," which is okay as long as we know that.
Yet there is the "Word," the Logos, through which everything was made, without which nothing exists (John 1:3). So all of creation is incarnational, God's word made flesh! And all of creation has a voice, for the Psalmist writes, "Let every creature praise his holy name" (Psalm 145:21b). Psalm 148 goes further, telling lightning and hail, mountains and trees, cattle and birds, to praise Him! "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world" (Psalm 19:1-4, NIV).
Is this just poetry and metaphor? If you are inclined to think so, consider the concrete statements of the theological academic, St. Paul: "The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration…that creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time" (Romans 8:19-22, NIV).
The saints who preached to the birds and fish about God's glory were not crazy. They knew and lived in the mystery of Incarnation. Jesus talked to fig trees, wind and water. He preferred to pray in the gardens than in the temple. I, also, crave the natural environments, not for their beauty or "peacefulness," but because the stones, waters, trees and clouds do really speak glorious wisdom and praises, and I feel it all responding to my own worship of the Creator, singing with me and whispering to me. And, like Paul, I am not talking metaphorically.
Then came the greatest moment in time: God spoke the Word into flesh, and "the Word dwelled among us"! It was then that God could say, "You are my Son. Today, I have become your Father; I have begotten You." This Word-made-human, this Emmanuel, God-with-us, is personified intimacy! To resist Him, or worse, to profane Him, is to desecrate Life, Truth, the Way and all creation that groans for the fullness of His time.
Incredibly, we, too, hear God telling us, "Today, I have become your Father." We hear Jesus saying, "Who are my mother and my brothers? Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother" (Mark 3:34-35). Jesus tells His faithful and obedient followers, "I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you" (John 15:15, NIV). We are the brothers and sisters and mother of Christ, the Word, the Anointed One! In response we became bond (voluntary) servants, voluntary prisoners, the loving and faithful bride, worshipers of Him. We suffer in a paradoxical joy to enable Him to conform us to His likeness. He made us His "all" so we make Him our All. We die and resurrect with and in Him.
The Father looks at us through Him and beholds us as His sons and daughters, with Christ being the Firstborn Son among us. The Father sees us clothed and filled with Christ, thus seeing us as righteous, holy, perfect, calling us His saints, for Christ also incarnated our sins, destroying them on His cross.
We shake our rational
heads in dismay over all this immensity of humanly inconceivable spiritual
treasures and gifts of infinite love. How can this be? How is it possible?
That is the glorious mystery of Incarnation. The billions upon billions
of differentiated cells that so marvelously and seamlessly merge into our
bodies is mystery.
We don't know how we make an apple into human flesh, but we nonetheless live in the mystery of our bodies. These bodies work well so long we are obedient in caring for their needs, so we do have a wisdom for nurturing and celebrating mystery.
Can we live with wisdom in the mystery that all is incarnational? The Proverbs say what we think we become. Jesus said that hatred is murder, that lust is adultery - that contemplation is action - That thought is incarnational. Jesus also taught our prayers are incarnational, along with faith, which is the essence or ethereal substance of things not yet visible or incarnated, but will be, so long we don't lose or forsake it.
The Scriptures are described as living words, the breath (or inspiration) of God. They are incarnational for those who consume them into their hearts, manifesting into physical reality. Didn't Jesus say humans cannot live on bread alone, but on the very words of God? (And Jesus was quoting Moses in Deuteronomy 8:3.)
Paul wrote that "whoever eats the bread [of Christ] or drinks from the Lord's cup in an improper way will be held responsible for the Lord's body and blood…This is the reason why many of you are weak and sick and quite a number of you have died" (Corinthians 11:27,30, GW). The sacraments and the sacred, the Scriptures and our prayers, anger, bitterness, jealousy, forgiveness, love, idle words, wounds, pains and praises - are all incarnational. Again, not metaphorically but literally and substantially.
That's why mere social activism or militant approaches to stop injustices or social evils creates more violence and ills. The motivating fear, hate or self-righteousness incarnates into more injustice and evil. It's been said that before the revolution, people oppressed the people; after the revolution it was just the opposite.
Jesus said that whatever we do or don't do to the least of His brothers or sisters, we do or don't do to Him, literally. That is both scary and joyous. Many people are scared of intimacy because it means you must be responsible and accountable. So Christ is frightening to many. It is safer to think of Him as an observer in heaven than an Incarnate Presence among us and in us, especially in the undesirables, the outcasts, the wretched, and the humbly meek and poor in spirit. Aren't some of the feet He walks in just too ugly and smelly for us to wash and clothe, let alone touch?
The great three are faith, hope and love. St. Paul says the greatest of them is love. Incarnational love is power. It is indestructible. It always has the last, victorious word, even if that final word is the death of a martyr. But did you know Christ, love-incarnate, is wary of us believers? John recorded that "Jesus, however, was wary of these believers. He understood people and didn't need anyone to tell him about human nature. He knew what people were really like" (John 2:24-25, GW).
Jesus described people "like children who sit in the marketplaces and shout to other children, 'We played music for you, but you didn't dance. We sang a funeral song, but you didn't show any sadness'" (Matthew 11:16b-17, GW). The context of Jesus' observation in both Matthew 11 and Luke 7 indicates He was referring to the general rejection of John the baptizer's call to repentance and Jesus' good news of redemption and the ultimate marriage feast of His lovers to Himself.
People are like the children Jesus spoke about, who complain to their friends for not wanting to play or interact, whether the game was happy or sad…Children just hanging out in the street market, watching and complaining…No intimacy… No response to any kind of call.
People were afraid of Jesus, the humble but authoritative holy God-man. So they killed whom they feared. They wanted power and rulership over the occupying Roman Empire. But intimacy with God as Father was out of their mental box of possibilities. They didn't hear the prophets sent to them, including John, and their ancestors killed them. Christ's response to violence and death was a contemplative act, another incarnation of the power of life and love made visible and historic: His glorious resurrection.
It is our response too, as people still fear and persecute the Anointed One. With such a sacred mandate as the resurrection of the Truth, the Life and the Way, how terrible that Christ should be wary of any of us!
We are called by Christ to pray, to fast, to be living sacrificial offerings, to be holy, to be perfect, to be like Him. A big part of the reason, I believe, is because we will incarnate these attributes for all to behold in this physical world. Then there will be none of the distractions of arguing over doctrine or the rightness or wrongness of our theologies. Instead, we will be living incarnations of the Good News, and death itself cannot silence such witnesses, but only strengthen them.
Jesus said that those who see His incarnated Self, also sees the Father. Let that also be said of Jesus' brothers and sisters. Saints are not saints because they don't sin, for they do. What saints do is offer us a beautiful glimpse into the Heart of God.
And we are called to be His saints.
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
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Weekly Reflections © February 9, 2002
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