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Sunday, December 1, 2013

Advent & Being Incarnational

Advent is the season in which we celebrate the incarnation. The incarnation is the title given to God becoming flesh. In Jesus, we see God become weak and enter into the world in the form of a human being. Not only does God become man and come to be with us but he does it in humility but entering into the world as a baby, through the womb of the virgin Mary. There is more beauty in this than I have time or ability to write but I pray the beauty finds you (perhaps in some great books, prayers, and songs).

The term incarnation is an important one for us. Sometimes we hear pastors, theologians, and communities say we, as Christians and churches, ought to be incarnational. “We need incarnational ministries” and the like. It’s a good word and it is also a buzzword. More than anything, it is a reality of grace and blessing. 

As we focus on Jesus’ incarnation during this advent season I challenge us to also think of what this incarnation means for us as a people and to see the incarnation as transcending the nativity. What I mean is that Jesus doesn’t stop being the incarnation after the opening chapters of the gospels and God doesn’t end his strategy of incarnation with the person of Jesus. No, there aren’t more incarnations. Rather, God continues incarnation with his covenant people known as the Church.

The Church is known as the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16, 12, Romans 7:4, 12:4-8). 1 John 4:17 states, “By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.” In other words, we are just like Jesus in this world. When Jesus ascending into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father he left us with his peace and his ministry of reconciliation (John 14:15-31, 2 Corinthians 5). When we partake of the bread and wine in the Eucharist (communion) we are united to Christ and one another as his very body on this earth. We look like him in conduct, as individuals and as a community, and we really truly are bound together with Christ through our conduct and the eucharist. We truly carry on his work in the world, as his ambassadors and his body. He do the work of God on earth, reconciling humans to one another and to their Creator.

But how does this connect to Advent? 

I often think of the words of Luke 2:14 when the angels proclaim the news of the incarnated messiah to shepherds in the field saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (ESV, NASB). We have often heard the King James Version which states, “Peace on earth and good will towards men.” 

Mere days before the beginning of Advent, Black Friday proves that there is not a peace all over the earth or even a whole lot of good will towards men. The newspapers, TV stations, and blogs show us that we’re still in waiting for this to feel true. So why isn’t it true and what does this have to do with incarnation and the Church as a people?

It doesn’t feel true because 1) we live in a tension where God’s kingdom is “already/not yet.” This means that the kingdom has come but not in it’s entirety and we live in a world that has victory in Christ but an enemy that has yet to surrender or become fully destroyed (rest assured, it’s coming). We’re to live in the “already” aspect of this tension with faith and hope in the “not yet” aspect. That’s hard because the world doesn’t operate as heaven does and we’re expected to do it anyway. By the way, that’s not an impossibility with Christ, it’s just scary and hard. This is also why we don’t tend to feel as though we have peace on earth or good will towards men; we don’t live it. 

All Christ did himself he gave to us to also do. That doesn’t mean we save ourselves, it means we live as he lived and taught. It means we share his hope for the coming judgment when all people get what they deserve and all is made right. It means we are able to forgive instead of taking vengeance. It means we can choose suffering instead of power over others. In Christ, in the incarnation we are empowered to set aside fear and live in love. Christ came to earth to bring his peace (the Hebrew word is shalom and it means a holistic positive/proactive peace for all of life). Christ left earth and gave us his peace with his Spirit. 

If the peace is not present we must ask if we are being people of peace. Are we becoming weak as Christ became weak? Are we suffering instead of seeking power? Are we loving instead of fearing? I’m not just talking about the big scale of life. I’m talking about how we budget, make purchases, talk to stranger, interact with friends, handle conflict, encounter enemies, go to work, learn at school, eat our meals, and more. Are we being a people of peace?

That’s not an easy question. What does it even mean to be a people of peace? It looks like loving justice. It looks like Jesus on the cross and us accepting that same fate in every moment/decision of our lives. Will I dine with people when it’ll cause me suffering? Will I spend my money in a way that blesses others and doesn’t keep me comfortable? Will I refuse to treat my enemies in any way that isn’t truly kind and generous? 

It’s too easy for me to make this issue about nonviolence, and it’s about that at a point, but it is much more. It’s about embracing Jesus and the means of our holy God in all aspects of life. Nothing should be left untouched by the incarnational power of Christ. We must always choose to become empty and weak for the sake of others and we must always be generous, kind, and forgiving. We must be inclusive and welcoming all people into our arms, homes, and communities because we care about their peace. 

Originally I wanted to write this blog and bring it around to Christian pacifism but instead I find it better to simply say that the call to be incarnational goes beyond that and if we are truly incarnational we will have no choice but to abandon our willingness to resort to means of violence in any given situation just as we will abandon our greed, elitism, fear, and all other sinful ways that sent Jesus to weakness and the cross (though his love drove him to it equally as much as our sin). 

Let us live by hope and by joy and by peace and by love this Advent. Let us embrace the incarnation of Jesus by mirroring him in this world today together. May 1John 4:17 be true of us.

“By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.”

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