Everything is New in 2020 in Light of the Incarnation
He Comes, God is Coming, Can’t You Feel It, See It?
God’s word of love becomes flesh in us, is embodied in us, is enacted through us and in doing so, trust is forged between word spoken and the reality of which it speaks, between the words we speak and transcendent realities to which we point. The Word became flesh … a human life … a work of art … shaping a new humanism … a new community … a new social imaginary. Integrity is his name. God with us is the hope of a new creation, a new covenant, new purpose, abundant new life.
At just the right time, it was kairos time, richer, deeper, more meaningful than any chronological time. He comes to dwell among us in incarnate human flesh: pulsating corpuscles, arms and legs running to greet us, face filled with compassion, hands breaking bread to feed the masses, words that give life and vision, fuel the imagination about justice, righteousness and passion. Here lies the great invitation to counter nihilism, violence, lies, will to power.
The season of Advent means there is something on the horizon the likes of which we have never seen before…. What is possible is to not see it, to miss it, to turn just as it brushes past you. And you begin to grasp what it was you missed, like Moses in the cleft of the rock, watching God’s [back] fade in the distance. So stay. Sit. Linger. Tarry. Ponder. Wait. Behold. Wonder. There will be time enough for running. For rushing. For worrying. For pushing. For now, stay. Wait. Something is on the horizon. (Jan L. Richardson, Night Visions: Searching the Shadows of Advent and Christmas)
It is high time to slow down and search the deeper things of life, reach higher than ever before for a transcendent I-Thou encounter with divine Otherness. It is time to ponder the big questions of meaning, purpose and identity as the profound light from heaven dispels darkness and confronts evil. Indeed, there is more here than meets the eye, and there is plenty of wonder that captivates. Where are our best philosophers, historians and scholars, poets and scientists? What say they about the dramatic Christ event? There are clues to a great turn in history: both fulfilment and promise. What kind of thunderous inbreaking is this? What’s the meaning of this virgin birth, this epiphany of grace, these angelic visitations? Advent is a sign of good things to come for Mary, for the Jewish people, for the whole world. It speaks of infinite hope.
We have touched him with our hands, rubbed shoulders, gone for long walks, felt his robust embrace, dined and broken bread together, heard wisdom from his lips that set our minds and hearts on fire. We have been embraced by his care and inclusion. We have captured a mission that drove us to reach the world. It was a compelling message of dikaiosune justice, caritas grace and agape love, one that drills down deep into human culture. Deep calls to deep. We saw him die and rise again, ascend through the heavens. He has inaugurated an economy of grace and goodness, humility and compassion.
The pregnant Mary sings her Magnificat, praising an awe-filled, enthusiastic Yes to God’s work in and through her: Things hidden for centuries become so crystal clear this holy night, so completely riveting, earth-shaking. Insight and justice have set up a new epistemology, a new way of knowing and being that includes love at its core. We have entered a new world, one where agape love is the main game in town, the infinite game, where peace-making, reconciliation and blessing (shalom) shape our relationships, our posture towards the world.
It is a new playing field, a paradigm shift has taken place, a new human narrative has emerged with fresh interpretations of our raison d’être, our place in the bigger scheme of things. We must invent new language to capture the wonder of what is happening. Infinite meets finite, like a comet burning through the atmosphere. Divine goodness ushers in hope of healing. A new future is born. Our people have waited and longed for this for centuries, believing he would come, if only in their wildest dreams. Their faith feeds on divine promise to covenant-keeping Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and King David. Once upon a time, we could only hope for such wondrous things. Now they are tangible, palpable, life-transforming, future-altering.
You keep us waiting. You, the God of all time, want us to wait. For the right time in which to discover who we are, where we are to go, who will be with us, and what we must do. So thank you … for the waiting time. (John Bell, quoted in The Westminster Collection of Christian Prayers, compiled by Dorothy M. Stewart)
Christian believers make claim to Jesus of Nazareth as God’s Word (his divine logos) made flesh, embedded among us. God’s speech is embodied, full-blooded, not flat and lifeless, not reductionistic or atomistic, no mere words. It is a divine move, a communicative action, that changes the universe of our perceptions. It is poetic-prophetic-pedagogical, a profound speech act, full of living spiritual vitality and truth. The language of incarnation leverages the whole world and transforms individuals along with society. It is strategically, intensively integrated with the human story, not a fantasy or figment of the imagination. There is much to grapple with as we see in scholar Jens Zimmermann’s thoughtful book:
Christ the creative wisdom of God, and God’s active Word in creation, is enfleshed in the temporal-historical dimension of our world as the concrete Jewish Messiah, Jesus the Christ…. This is the Word through whom all things were made, and the Word hid in the eternal bosom of God, the Word who spoke through the prophets, the Word whose mighty acts defined the history of Israel. In Jesus the Christ this Word has become flesh, and the eternal has become temporal, but without ceasing to be eternal…. In Christ temporality and eternity are conjoined…. In the incarnation, creation, the world, time and history have been taken up into the God-man, who is the center of reality…. Faith and reason are inseparable because their unity is in Christ. (J. Zimmermann, Incarnational Humanism.)
Divine speech act starts with creation: God spoke and the heavens, the stars, the seas, the plants and trees, all living creatures, man and woman came into existence, in abundance. They continue to do so through his grace: creatio continua. God’s word was enacted in particular places and times in history. It makes space for new drama, new dynamics today, for tragic optimism, more justice and compassion in our broken world. God has carved out space and time for his presence. When humans are addressed by God, they are drawn up into divine dialogue (Come, follow me; Be with me). Something profound occurs when humans take up such a great opportunity to reason and commune with their Creator, to grapple with this profound reality, to take on Jesus’ yoke, his kingdom mandate and Lordship. They are identified, loved and valued by their divine mentor and source of self, moral compass, wisdom and identity.
But God is present in reality no matter what unreality our practice and our ponderings imply. He is forever trying to establish communication; forever aware of the wrong directions we are taking and wishing to warn us; forever offering solutions for the problems that baffle us; forever standing at the door of our loneliness, eager to bring us such comradeship as the most intelligent living mortal cannot supply; forever clinging to our indifference in hope that someday our needs, or at least our tragedies will waken us to respond to his advances. The Real Presence is just that, real and life-enhancing, ushering in a new age. Nor are the conditions for the manifestation of his splendours out of the reach of any of us! Here they are: otherness, openness, obedience, obsession. (The Captivating Presence by Albert Edward Day)
A perlocutionary act is a robust speech act that produces an effect, an existential impact, in those addressed through the speaker’s very utterance. God’s Word has indeed impacted all human culture spheres: Science, the Arts, Ethics and Religion. Brilliant Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar sees the Word of God revealed in three rich and powerful ways: through Creation, Scripture, and most profoundly the Incarnation. These are three different types of language, each powerful, complementary, integral to the divine voice. They open new spaces for human meaning and identity, spawning new fields of articulacy. They use both traditions of semantic logic, take advantage of the full human linguistic capacity: designative and constitutive. Jesus, the transcendent one who takes on human flesh, brought the fullness of heaven to earth and by so doing showed that the Unity and Trinity of God need not be destroyed when expressed in the multiplicity of the world. This includes statements, images, concepts, personhood and judgments. He is the ‘Superword’ (Überwort) above all words, the very speech of God (Balthasar). Everything hinges on whether God has spoken; or if the Absolute or Being remains silent beyond all words, as in Zen and contemporary Western Gnosticism.
To have found God, to have experienced him in the intimacy of our being, to have lived even for one hour in the fire of his Trinity and the bliss of his Unity clearly makes us say: Now I understand. You are enough for me. (Carlo Carretto, a desert monk, from The God Who Comes)
In the year of COVID-19, in late modernity, the incarnation is God’s megaphone to awaken the world spiritually (hear the angels trumpets), to call us to fullness of being as the Imago Dei, amidst all our confusion, challenges, conundrums, contradictions and existential struggles. Make room for the God who comes, give ear to the God who speaks, allow yourself to be embraced by the loving God who calls you into his most noble conversation this Advent Season.
~Dr. Gordon E. Carkner, Meta-euducator, Graduate & Faculty Ministry, UBC