Saturday, December 03, 2011

The Mystery of the Incarnation

It’s the season of Advent.

I’ve been reading Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics I/2 on “Very God and Very Man,” and last night I experienced the profoundly theological Advent concert by Future of Forestry. Both Barth and Future of Forestry offer meditations on the event of Christmas, or more specifically, on the event of the Incarnation. 

The doctrine of the Incarnation of the Word has always fascinated me. C. S. Lewis dubbed it the “Grand Miracle,” and that’s precisely why it draws me—it’s the most radical claim made by the Christian Gospel. Contrast it, for example, with “love your neighbor,” which has profundity and amazing usefulness, which in its simplicity, challenges us not in theory, but in practice. Still, who really disagrees this command? Yes, there a few, but nothing like the reaction to this extraordinary—even offensive—claim that God, the one true God, became flesh. It has long been a scandal to the other monotheistic faiths of Judaism (who are still awaiting Messiah) and Islam (whose Dome of the Rock proclaims “Far be it removed from His transcendent majesty that He should have a son”). The claim is bold, unique, and offensive. It’s the sheer boldness of this claim that draws me and inspires me every Advent.

Indeed. That “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14) has been so challenging even Christian theologians have danced around, or muted, the clarity of the New Testament Greek that somehow the eternal Word became—that there is a change in God’s history, that somehow divine fullness, and therefore perfection, can include alteration, that somehow the eternal God wants to get down into the muck of human history in order to free us, and thus that the Word became flesh, became fallen human, concrete humanity—“Don’t get so close, I want like the contemplate Principle of Beauty, Truth, and Goodness, or meditate respectfully on the Laws of Physics, but I don't want this meddling God.”

Nonetheless, there it lies right at the center of our faith: “The Word became flesh and dwelled among us.” It is a good news that we often conclude is truly too good to be true, and one we all seemed to want to remove or soften. Yet if the doctrine falls, the Christian faith falls too. To repeat C. S. Lewis, it is the Grand Miracle. And I believe it is the very linchpin that steadies all things, including ourselves.

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