Today I have been mulling over the meaning of incarnation. How many of us have heard that phrase used by theologically trained pastors (or maybe not so) when referring to Jesus. “God incarnate, in the form of Jesus”. Most of us, outside of the Christian notion of Jesus being “God Incarnate” would probably think of the eastern religion idea of reincarnation. This Christian sense of incarnation is often times understood through the lens that Jesus is the Son of God. most times, this term, “Son of God” is used literally, with many believing that Jesus is the literal son of God. (Which would mean that God, in his divine-ness, came down and impregnated Mary Himself then??? Maybe I shouldn’t stray into this territory right now. I’ll save it for another time)
However, I want to pose a more understandable, and in all seriousness, probably a more accurate notion of the incarnation. So first, there are a couple foundations I need to set forth.
First of all, the term, “Son of God” was not a literal term at all in the 1st century world. In fact, in it’s original Roman usage, the term “son of God” was a symbolic term to represent someone who had the “Divine Favor” about them. Someone who the gods liked a whole lot. Someone who “had it”. Someone who was wise and strong and noble and all that jazz. It was someone who had the Divine smiling upon them and blessing them outrageously. Think of people such as Hercules or Achilles, these greek demigods had divine favor through their impenetrable defenses and super strength. It was the same kind of idea. Most of the time, this term was used for the Roman Emperors, who, coincidentally, started referring to themselves as divine beings and requiring people to worship them through what was known as the Imperial Cult. To label the incarnation of Jesus as simply a literal, biological son of God is false. It simply is not what the Gospel writers and the Epistle writers were intending. They were using Roman language to try to describe the Divine. In fact, Jesus Himself did not even refer to Himself as the Son of God. Instead, Jesus referred to Himself as the “Son of Man”, which essentially means, in the ancient Roman understanding, “The Human one” or, as some might say (Rob Bell) “The Archetypal Human”. In other words, the blueprint of what it means to be human, which brings us to my second point.
The Incarnation, inherently, involves the humanity of Jesus. As Richard Rohr stated it in a conversation with Rob and Kristen Bell concerning the Bible…
…Yes. The Christ is the union of the human and the divine.
Jesus is the human person who lives it, personifies it, exemplifies it. The Christ eternally gathers the body to itself but you cannot know that mystery except through the humanity because that’s where we’re located—through incarnate experience.
For Richard Rohr, the Incarnation is the merging of both the human and the divine, however, in has to include both. In addition to this, the incarnation first starts at the humanity of Jesus, for Jesus is the being that shows us what it means to live and exemplify the Divine within out own selves. God revealed through the Humanity of Christ is vital because how else can we begin to put words to the Divine? How else can we come into contact with the Sacred Flow if it is not shown to us first? How can we make sense of the calling to the Divine that rests within each of us? How can we know how to put it together if we don’t see the model first? It can’t be put together unless it is first put together in Christ. It begins with the human, the earth, the soil. It connects everything back to the Divine. That is why the creation begins with the dirt and the raw beauty of nature. That is why Humanity is formed from the dirt and not the ethereal. That is why the Divine revealed the truth of the trinity through itself by walking and talking and breathing and suffering on earth with humanity, to show the Divine and the human together. It began with the human, but it points to so much more. Which leads into the more practical and probably accurate description of the Incarnation.
I would argue that a better term for incarnation is embodiment. Christ is the embodiment of the Trinitarian love and service that rests at the heart of all things. Christ is the embodiment of the Sacred Flow. Christ is the embodiment of Love. Christ is the embodiment of the union of the Divine and the human. Richard Rohr, in the same conversation says…
Yes, the incarnation was an act of love. Go back and read the hymns in Colossians and Ephesians. It says it right there: we were chosen in Christ from the beginning—
[that’s] the cosmic Christ notion.
The Incarnation is the embodiment of love. It is an act of love, and reveals love. This is the path of Christian Spirituality, becoming like the incarnate, embodied Christ. Being the act and embodiment of love itself. The way my good friend put it,
“…I see Christianity as in and up to come back down.”
In the sense of what Richard Rohr is talking about (and what I am talking about) is that the path of Christian Spirituality is getting into the heart of the Incarnation, which comes first through the human experience, then you go up, where you encounter the divine, only to come back down again to re-encounter the humanity around us. In that process, one begins to see the divine within all things. Sacredness explodes forth. Once one has met and seen the Divine, one cannot unsee it or forget it. When one sees the sacredness of one thing, one begins to see the sacredness in all things.
And yes, there is evil, yes there is hardship, yes there are people that do awful things. I do not mean to disregard that, but in the path of Christian Spirituality, you begin to see that it is not the evil and sin that defines someone’s true identity. Yes, the evil and the sin may be doing a good job of covering it up, but deep down, within every single person, within the heart of creation itself, rests the divine image. The Heart Beat of God. The Sacred Flow. The Trinitarian example. The Incarnation.
The Incarnation invited us to embody the Divine just as Christ embodies the Divine. Just as The Incarnation is the embodiment and act of love, so too are we the embodiment and act of love. Just as the Incarnation exemplifies the union between the Divine and Human, marking everything sacred, so too are we to be the union between the Divine and human, marking everything as Sacred. This is incarnation living. This is what Pastors are talking about on a Sunday morning when they talk about God incarnate. It was present in Jesus and is waiting to burst forth in our own selves. That is what the Incarnation means.
Grace and Peace,