Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Infinite Immensity Of The Incarnation

As a child. I remember being intrigued upon hearing the pastor of the Presbyterian church we attended, preaching on the Word becoming flesh. If I had been older and exposed to the gospel of John, this would have been familiar to me, but, at the tender age of eight, this notion was completely foreign and puzzling. Now I had always been fascinated by language ever since my mother read to me The Tale of Peter Rabbit and of how the lettuce had a "soporific" effect on him. Having never heard this new word, I asked my mother what it meant and she explained that the lettuce made Peter sleepy.  From there, I fell in love with language and was that odd kid who enjoyed not only looking up new words in the dictionary but also reading the dictionary itself. This love never waned and was only furthered when I took a course entitled The History of the English Language in college. Certainly, if I ever had enough disposable income, I would purchase the complete Oxford English Dictionary, which is twenty volumes and contains 171,476 words.

Hearing the pastor speak of Word becoming flesh baffled me. What did that even mean? With my childish sensibilities and understanding, I could only envision Letter Man from The Electric Company TV show. Since it was the beginning of the Advent season, he also used another word that I was wholly unfamiliar with: Incarnation. Unfortunately, my parents would not allow me to bring a dictionary along with my children's Bible to church. And it was frustrating to me that I could not ask my parents what he meant as they would simply shush me to be quiet during the service. Of course, even after my mother tried to explain all of this to me in the car ride home, I just found it confusing and wondered why John had to be so cryptic.

Still, the idea of Word becoming flesh took hold of my vivid daydreamer's imagination, so much so that it has never left me in all these years.

The Incarnation, like so much of scripture, has become too familiar to us. We, in our mere nodding acceptance of the whole Jesus born as an infant, without understanding that with this very act the line between the possible and the impossible were forever erased. As Walter Brueggemann wrote in Names for the Messiah, "The old limits of the possible have been exposed as fraudulent inventions designed to keep the powerless in their places. Jesus violates such invented limitations and opens the world to the impossible."

The Incarnation reminds us that God's ways are not our ways at all. We would have preferred something grander and more elegant, but the Incarnation, like grace, is messy and unexpected (a joyous surprise no less) given in the most unexpected way, in the most unlikely of places and circumstances.

With Incarnation comes redemption: unearned and unmerited. A glorious gift. Unbreakable, undefinable grace offered not to the righteous but to the wayward to bring life and light to their unawakened hearts.  Christ, the Word made Flesh, to remind us that we were, all of us, created in his Father's image and that our lives were sacred. How we had forgotten this. As Madeleine L'Engle wrote, "There is nothing so secular that it cannot be sacred, and that is one of the deepest messages of the Incarnation."

So the Logos came.

 And he could see the true and private self of each person he came in contact with and, in so doing, made their hearts gasp in gratitude because he did see them, the real them, and he loved them unconditionally and without reservation. This very love caused them to bathe his feet in tears and kisses and made them anoint him with costly oils and perfumes. They understood that the only true response to Incarnation is adoration.

We, who have become too familiar with the unfamiliar and try to reason with that beyond reason, have forgotten the truth and the power that this Word made Flesh was once the Word that made everything. All of creation came from this Word and that Word was love. Love was the impetus for creation and, after its fall, was the cause for the Incarnation. The Incarnation was God's way to remind us that all of life is Advent, that it's not a season but a daily reality.

Genesis 18:14 asked, "Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?"

The Incarnation is the reply that there is nothing that is beyond the love of our Creator. That the wildness and strangeness and inexplicableness and joyousness of grace can never be sentimentalized or sanitized. It cannot be a mere child's story. The Divine Mystery became man. That which was greater than all of the universes was now contained in the form of an infant. Tiny, helpless infant who had to be nursed and changed and comforted and loved and raised and protected. Into the terror of darkness that filled the world and the hearts of those in it, came this light. Bright and unimaginable light. The infinite stepped down into the finite and became one. God left kairos into chronos. Beyond time into our time. Beginning and End, Alpha and Omega, the Resurrection and the Life in the form of a baby. God incarnate in Christ. God in human form. The immaterial became material.

The Incarnation has immense implications as the power to create everything from nothing becomes vulnerable revealing that true power comes from vulnerability. God becomes a baby

The Word had to learn words. The Logos had to learn language. And then he used those words as parables that, like all great stories, fill the hearer with surprise, confusion, and are challenged by them.

Christ left the heavens for the humdrum to reveal to us the reality that both are holy.

He entered into our own brokenness, loneliness, and desperate need. The Holy became humble to heal and bring wholeness. Christ became compassion.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

"Only the humble believe him and rejoice that God is so free and so marvelous that he does wonders where people despair, that he takes what is little and lowly and makes it marvelous. And that is the wonder of all wonders that God loves the lowly . . . God is not ashamed of the lowliness of human beings. God marches right in. He chooses people as his instruments and performs his wonders where one would least expect them. God is not to lowliness; he loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and the broken."

The power of all creation stooped down to lift us up because, in our own inadequacy, we could not do it ourselves.

Advent is the season of expectation that is met in Incarnation. It is the answer to the question that resonates throughout all of human history and is met with an emphatic, "YES! God loves us enough to become one of us." This is not an easy thing to believe but the most important things never are.

Yet the only proper response is not comprehension but adoration. The Incarnation is meant to be approached with awe and wonder and worship.

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