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~ Christ is Still the Incarnate ~
Since Christ’s ascension, people have debated and even formed different theologies on the understanding of “incarnation.” Some have argued that Christ is the Person of the Trinity who put on a human body like one of us would put on clothes, making Him a divine Being with a human exterior. Some asserted that Christ is a Being with two natures, One who can switch back and forth as needed. Others put forth the idea of Christ as a Being of two integrated and equal aspects, divine and human.
Children’s images of their parents and those in authority change as they grow. Images are shaped by their experiences, worldviews and rates of maturity. These images and understandings, in turn, shape their relationships. Our grasp of the mystery of divine incarnation impacts how we relate to the Son of God.
The openings of the Book of Hebrews and the Gospel of John are quite explicit in declaring all things were created through the Son, the Word that was “in the beginning,” and all created things are held together in Him. Christ is fully human as He is fully divine. He is fully matter as He is fully spirit. The matter-mind-human complex is as much an essence of Christ as is God.
In its chapters 5 and 7 the Book of Hebrews quotes Psalm 110:4 three times, emphasizing how Christ is a “a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” “Because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood” (Hebrews 7:23b, NIV). This is one of the roles of the Messiah. Christ is a Priest or self-sacrificing Mediator in the interface of humanity and God. The Scriptures declare He will always be that, and cannot be understood apart from being incarnational.
“Prophet” does not so much mean “future teller” as “truth declarer.” Christ is God’s Prophet. He said, “I am the Truth” and will always be. So Christ is our Prophet forever, as well as our High Priest.
As Messiah, Christ declared Himself as King and Lord, explaining His kingdom “is not of this world.” This kingdom rests on the structure of kinship. Since Christ is fully human as well as fully divine, we can become His brothers and sisters, the adopted children of the Father through the same Holy Spirit who incarnated Christ in the womb of Mary. This Christ “is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). He always was the incarnational Person of the triune God (having been the Lamb “slain before the foundations of the world”), He is that same Person today and will be that same Person forever.
Today, this day, Christ feels our pain, yearnings, temptations, struggles and suffering, and joins us in them. He feels our joys, loves, laughter and kindness to others. He participates fully in our humanity as He invites and entices us to participate in His divinity. When we experience this mystery and reality, we then know Jesus was not speaking in metaphor when He said giving water to a thirsty brother refreshes Him. In a literal, real way, Christ feels our consolation to the sick, needy, oppressed and imprisoned. He feels the sting of our neglect and the pain of our verbal, emotional and physical violence.
As yesterday, today Christ still heals and restores body, soul and spirit. He still forgives sin, the scourging He still feels as we violate and hurt one another. He still lifts up His incarnate humanity, shares it with us, telling us to consume it into ourselves. He still breaks and multiplies His bread with more than enough to feed all who follow Him. And He still mandates that we love one another as He loves us.
In the shaman practices and in many of the eastern philosophies underlying the development of the martial arts in China, Japan and Korea, there is an orientation to acquiring “personal power” in body, mind and soul. In postmodern, technological cultures, personal power is acquired through wealth and ownership of material goods and positions of authority. This “personal power” is what Christ spoke of as “mammon” noting we “cannot serve two masters, God and mammon.”
Christ promised us His peace, “not the kind the world gives.” The apostle Paul called this “the peace that transcends understanding.” When I experience this grace of christologic peace, the sense of effortless participation in Christ’s humanity/divinity is striking. Mourning with another, sharing another’s despair and longing, brings into the heart and body the sense of sharing in Christ’s passion. He participates with us in that suffering and we in His.
This also holds true when one shares in the joys of another, or in the joys of the awakening, noisy wildlife at dawn and the wonder of the sun melting away darkness into light. It isn’t so much my joy I’m feeling, but Christ’s. An aspect of His peace is when I contemplate my breathing, I realize Christ is breathing me. When I run, I am doing it with His strength. Part of His peace is the awareness there is no “personal power” to achieve or work toward. Christ is the Incarnate in the world and “all things are sustained in Him.” All my strength and energy with which I move, feel, think and live is fundamentally and essentially His. There is remarkable peace in being conscious of that. There is also sorrow and a response of repentance as I realize all the blockages and impediments to that flow and strength are mine. Sanctification and repentance invokes the grace of their eradication.
The incarnational Word or Christ is integral to the structure of the triune God, to use less than adequate words. That’s just the way it is in Christian doctrine. To echo Jesus’ declaration of being “the Way” to God is not to claim a religious superiority or an ignorance or intolerance of other traditions and teachings. An orbiting spacecraft or meteor cannot connect with the earth’s surface without going through the atmosphere. The way to the earth’s water and land is through its air. There is no way around it. That’s the way things are with the earth. If a spacecraft or meteor needs to both connect with a hard surface and avoid air, it can target the moon. But where there is no atmosphere, there is only death.
Solids, liquids and gases, integrated together, make the earth. Without one of these three states of matter, the earth becomes something else. Absent one of these three states, our bodies become something else. Without the incarnate Christ, our God becomes someone else other than Yahweh, our Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer. “But if serving the Lord, Yahweh, seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the [people], in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord, Yahweh” (Joshua 24:15).
Zeal for the devotion to Christ, the inner experience of celebrating the imminent Day of the Resurrection, and the vitality of the Christian faith in its adherents and professors depend on realizing the implications of the Incarnation and embracing the gift and supreme grace of the union of God with the flesh. There is nothing to attain or earn, however. The Gospel or Good News is the universal gift of union with God that is a result of not our love or work for God but of His love for us. To spurn, deny or reject such love and gift is the supreme expression of pride and ungratefulness. This love is generous and all encompassing beyond our mental or emotional comprehension. So is God, of course.
God doesn’t require comprehension, though. If we take a break from
our chronic self-absorption and self-preoccupation, we can embrace and
experience the Incarnation in increasing measures, today and into the forever.
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services
~ Education, Research and Advocacy
in the Christian Faith ~
Spiritual Resource Services © March 26, 2004
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