January 1, 2017
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God…and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
This is, as C. S. Lewis calls it, the Grand Miracle: “the Christian story is precisely the story of one grand miracle, the Christian assertion being that what is beyond all space and time, which is uncreated, eternal, came into Nature, into human nature, descended into His own universe, and rose again, bringing Nature up with Him. It is precisely one great miracle. If you take that away there is nothing specifically Christian left.” The Grand Miracle and other selected essays, Page 55
That’s the big picture of our faith. That is the foundation upon which you can build your life, a foundation that is full of hope, joy, and love. It is a foundation that gives our lives purpose as we become characters in this story, the story of how God saves the world in and through Jesus. Our role is to let Jesus love us, and live his saving love through us, so our lives are no longer built on our performance but on the person of Jesus Christ.
When this is the software running through our minds then our lives will reflect it. As Steve McVey puts it, “No person can consistently behave in a way that is inconsistent with the way he perceives himself.” Grace Walk, page 42
As Jesus says, you can know the tree by the fruit it bears.
So New Year’s is a good time to ask one’s self: how do I perceive myself. What software is running in me? Is it the software of the Word made Flesh or say the software of “the one with the most toys wins”, or the software of “I’m not really enough”, or the software of “Failure is not an option”?
This is where the rubber meets the road because we all have this other software in us, by virtue of the culture we live in. Who can doubt that Christmas has become a celebration of commerce? We are constantly being seduced to believe our stuff, especially our new stuff, will make us happy and successful.
And we all have the software that is really a kind of malware that puts a negative valence on all our thinking by suggesting we are not worthy enough, loving enough, good enough.
So, this brings us back to the incarnation: did God really enter the sinful, messed up, confused flesh to which we all belong or did he just enter the perfect flesh of the perfect man from the perfect woman, as different from us as Superman?
Karl Barth is right when he says, “There must be no weakening or obscuring of the saving truth that the nature which God assumed in Christ is identical with our nature as we see it in the light of Fall. If it were otherwise, how could Christ be really like us? What concern would we have with him? We stand before God characterized by the Fall. God’s Son not only assumed our nature but he entered the concrete form of our nature, under which we stand before God as men damned and lost. (Church Dogmatics I.2, p. 153)
A couple of weeks ago Mary Woodward gave a fascinating presentation of the incarnation through the history of art. When she got to the Italian renaissance we saw the holy family and the shepherds in which everyone looked like a 17th century Italian. Being a neophyte in such things I asked if these artists ever painted the characters to look like men and women of Palestine. Mostly not was the answer though occasionally one of the wise men would look Middle Eastern.
We are used to artists doing this and it makes sense for say a Native American artist to portray the Holy Family as Native American. This is a proper instinct of the incarnation. But I’ve known some people who get nervous when the Holy Family are all African-American or all Chinese.
But if the Word became flesh then the Word had to become a certain type of flesh that would fit into the culture. It would not do to imagine Jesus as a 21st century geek walking around 1st century Palestine. No one ever commented on how Jesus looked so he must have looked like everyone else.
Back in 2002 I remember seeing a picture of a Jesus created by scientists to reflect his culture and time. You know what he looked like?
He looked like a Middle Eastern terrorist.
…Which brings us to when the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City displayed Edwina Sandys’ Christa as part of a small exhibition on the feminine divine. Christa is a 4 x 5 foot statue cast in bronze consisting of a nude female Christ on an acrylic cross. When it was first displayed at the cathedral during Holy Week 1984 the general reception was positive but there was some fierce criticism of portraying a female Christ—and a naked female at that. There were denunciations and a lot of hate mail about this blasphemy.
I saw Christa this past week in one of the small chapels behind the apse of the massive cathedral. I found it a powerful witness to the incarnation, that in the Word becoming Jesus, the Word was becoming all flesh, which includes the flesh of women. Born in another culture the incarnation could have been female. Christa didn’t make me feel separated from Jesus but closer to him as I looked at her.
Christa sits on the altar under a blazing early 20th century stained glass window of the ascending Christ. The ascension is the account of Jesus taking our flesh with him into heaven. In that setting it is obvious that Jesus is also taking Christa’s flesh into heaven.
Jesus joins together earth and heaven. Our world and God’s world are now one in him. Therefore it takes no great leap of faith, but makes perfect sense to surrender to Jesus as the One who inhabits me with the love and purpose of God. I do not have to generate this software, it is a free gift of God’s action in my life. As disciples we are given the unbelievable privilege of letting this central idea of our faith organize our lives around its hope, joy, and love.
So as we start this New Year here is a resolution to consider: I resolve that every time I become aware that I am running the negative software of unworthiness or fear or anxiety or judgmentalism, I will consciously replace that story by remembering the story of the Word who became flesh, all flesh, and who dwells among us even now through the Spirit.
Or we can say to ourselves, preferably out loud, any number of Bible verses to make us remember: like Galatians 2:20 according to the Kingdom Translation: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live within the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Or like John 1:14: “ And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son[a] from the Father, full of grace and truth.”