Incarnation

On the Lord’s Prayer…”You are in heaven”

‘Dynamic’ is the word I would use for this phrase, so easily glossed over. On it’s face, Jesus is simply locating God in heaven, but that simple positioning packs a rich theological punch. Let’s explore what the myriad conclusions we can draw from, “You are in heaven.”

DISTANCING, REVERENCE & CLOSING THE GAP

The sacred is always marked by space, certain thresholds must be crossed, places made more holy than others, it is part and parcel of reverencing something or someone. In our case, God is made holy (to us, in part) by the distance between him and us. God is our father, as Jesus points out in the first two words of the prayer, but he is also in heaven, and we are not. We are not where he is, and he is not where we are. This distance marks off the sacred from the profane.

The first six words of the Lord’s Prayer sum up the tension of the gospel: that we are, yet we are not. We are God’s children, yet we are also distant from him. But, we are also journeying to God. The Way has given us Life and Truth, that we can set off out of the world and towards heaven. Jesus has closed the gap, and in our experience as a Christian, the gap is closing.

So when we pray, “You are in heaven” it is a cry of exultant hope that soon, and very soon, where we are, is where he will be, and where he is, there we will also be.

THE SEAT OF POWER

Locating God in heaven locates him in the seat of power. God is not powerful because he is in heaven, however. It is a signifier to us, to our minds and how we think of things, to understand that God’s location in heaven is a sign to us of his power over all things. His location in heaven puts him as all rule and authority over everything under the heavens: the powers, governments, people, animals, things, nature… he rules it all.

In this respect, “You are in heaven” also exults that God is the ruler of all things, and hopes also that the kingdom of heaven will descend to infuse all things, making them not as they are, and reconciling that creation to God.

POWERING DOWN

At the same time as God is located in the seat of power, we can’t help but notice God is also on earth, in the flesh, as Jesus. It is the mystery of the Trinity that God could be in two different places at once, as two distinct persons at once, fully God, and fully human, filled with the third person, the Holy Spirit. Likely, the Apostles did not understand it at the time, but looking back, I am sure they marveled. So we come to my last point of exploration:

God, though holy and powerful, discarded all this, emptying himself, to become like a Son of Man, all so we could become a son of God.

Jesus inverted the world’s logic by discarding power to gain it. He powered down, coming to be like us, struggle and hurt like us, and his rising tide has lifted all our boats. He redistributed his powerful wealth to us by the Holy Spirit, just as he desired, and was no respecter of persons. It is a powerful theological, social, cultural and political sign to us of how the kingdom of God ought to work.

Jesus called them together and said, You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Mark 10:42-45

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Meditation: Incarnating Him

In the Rosary, the second glorious mystery is the ascension of Jesus into heaven. As it says in Mark 16, after Jesus had spoken to them, he ascended into heaven and sat down at God’s right hand.

Jesus spoke to them and then left the earth.

Leaving only them… us?… – poor, under-educated, minorities of a backward province in a sprawling empire. How did they do it? This turning of the world upside down?

… Jesus spoke to them … and then left the earth. Jesus spoke the words of God as the incarnation of God. After Jesus spoke these things to them, he left the earth.

Now we are to incarnate God and speak his words in the earth. Jesus left, but his body remained.

One of the enduring mysteries of the gospel is that God would entrust men and women to spread it. But he left so that we could incarnate him. Are we?

Jesus the Biography & Theology

Jesus as Biography and Theology means he is the summation of all God is and of all I can become.

The goal, then, of my life is to grasp fully who Jesus is and to become as he is – a partaker in the divine nature. In my being I will never be God, but by the effectual power of God’s grace, we can accomplish this very thing. I like what Irenaeus says:

“[T]he Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, who did, through His transcendent love, become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself.” (Against Heresies, Book 5 Preface)

He echoes and follows on from John:

“Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.” (First Letter, 3:2)

Jesus the Biography thrusts down a gauntlet before us. He sets a difficult but necessary road to theosis, letting his life cry out the meaning of ‘Christian’ in a world ruled by the adversary. As Biography, Jesus writes a perfect life and calls us to follow him in it. It’s a cop-out and jumps through theological hoops to say that Jesus shows us a life impossible to live just to show us the need for the cross, a terrible thing I’ve often heard. Otherwise half his commands and those of his followers mean nothing.

No, Jesus dies to birth us into a new nature that is able to live his life. Jesus as Biography rewrites not simply our story: he rewrites our spiritual DNA, creating an entirely new person, one made in his image. In other words, Jesus incarnated so that we could incarnate him.

Jesus the Theology is even more grand. As the Theology he is the perfect summation of all that is God. As we seek to understand God and ourselves, we need only look at Jesus and understand him. In Jesus we can see and understand all that is meant by ‘God’ and by ‘person’, or ‘man’ or ‘woman’. If theology means the study of God, we need only look at Jesus to know him. Nothing terribly profound in that thought; it’s been said and known before; the rub is in how we apply it.

If Jesus were truly incarnate to me, a true person with thoughts, feelings, emotions and desires, I could not sin, nor fool myself into thinking one sinful thing is not sin. I want to set the principle sans examples to make the point that we—meaning I—often sin or fool ourselves about sin because Jesus is not truly incarnate to us—he’s an abstract idea upon whom we impute our desires, feelings and opinions.

But Jesus the Biography and the Theology is the author, not us. We’ve ‘got it twisted’, and need to change how we think about Jesus.

Likely, I have gone on long enough, and I did not put as much of myself here as I desired, but here is my theology about Jesus, and the other half to my first post of the reboot.

You’ll understand from what I say above that without the Incarnation of Jesus, the center does not hold. As we continue in Warrior Poet, these themes will come up again and again. I hope to elaborate on what I’ve shared in later posts.

I’m Dreaming of an Incarnate Christmas

Last week I let politics override faith as I laughed at the uproar over MegynAishaGate (trademarked!). If you remember, Aisha Harris wrote a post in Slate arguing we should replace Santa with a penguin because a white Santa alienated her as a child. Megyn Kelly, Fox News host, argued that discomfort with social messages doesn’t mean it should change, effectively dismantling Thurgood Marshall’s arguments in Brown v. Board of Education. Kelly provoked backlash over her comment that Santa just is white, just like Jesus just is white, a verifiable fact according to her. A day or so later she explained MegynAishaGate was a tongue in cheek discussion in the media, and anyone who took it seriously was targeting Fox for race-baiting. Personally, I can’t wait for the comedy tour because this duo is hilarious.

Lost in the fog of media is the incarnational power of Jesus that we celebrate at Christmas. Jesus is God made flesh like us. The ineffable, eternal, boundless, all-powerful God left heaven behind. He poured out all of himself, constraining it to a single body, mortal, limited, weak, dependent child who was born outside, under threat of death, to poor parents, in a feeding trough. Christmas is not so much about the celebration of God’s gift to mankind, but our grasping to understand and live out the powerful mystery of God made flesh.

God made flesh changes everything. Jesus held down a job, commuted to work, had family pressures, friends he would hang out with… Jesus cried. Jesus got angry, hungry, maybe even hangry. Jesus got frustrated. Jesus was amazed. Jesus was afraid.  In short, Jesus was a person just like us and understands each of us, what we struggle with, fear, worry about, crave, and need. Jesus’ understanding of us is what enables him to be our Savior. Without the Incarnation, there is no salvation, and Christianity is meaningless.

What do I mean by that? Aisha’s criticism of a white Santa originated in frustration over an American culture that prizes ‘White’ and shuns, shames, or even hates what is not ‘White’.  Put simply, it’s the zeitgeist that says you must look, think, act and be this way to be not only accepted, but to be good. Pivoting to the white Jesus comment, the problem is not just an error in historicity, but it violates the very point of Jesus’ incarnation.

For centuries, a ‘white Jesus’ was used to promote white hegemony and drove many non-whites away from the faith. Jesus became a tool and symbol of alienation and oppression, instead of the liberator and friend that he truly is. The Bible doesn’t speak of Jesus’ color or appearance because, as Paul emphatically says, in Him there is no Jew, Greek, man, woman, slave or free man. All are one in Him.

I know what it means to live behind the veil, as DuBois called it, that veil that keeps the things of this world seen but not accessible to you because of your color, that says you’re not truly accepted because you’re not white. Praise be to Jesus that he ripped the veil in two, and out of two different people, made one that he could call his own.

The backdrop to this, admittedly not very funny, MegynAishaGate is evidence the world celebrates but doesn’t understand Christmas. I don’t really expect them to. What I do expect is that believers understand and proclaim from the rooftops the power of the incarnation, and how it unites us with Jesus and with one another. Without Jesus in the flesh, incarnated, put to death, and resurrected, our faith loses all power and meaning. May we never forget what the real meaning of Christmas is.