Advent: Incarnation

Advent ushers in the beginning of the Church Liturgical calendar year. The long season of Ordinary time comes to an end and we move into a place of hopeful anticipation, immersing ourselves in the Christmas Story, the birth narrative of Jesus as well as all of the extras that come with this busy season that vie for our attention and our wallets. It’s a season of gift giving, a time to celebrate the birth of the greatest gift given to mankind, God, who became flesh and lived like one of us.

The word Advent means ‘to wait’, and mirrors the story of the Jewish community of faith who had been waiting for around 1500 years for the arrival of their prophesied and promised Messiah, one who would come and free this nomadic people from their oppressors, establish God’s reign over the earth and restore them to their rightful identity as a nation. They had an image in mind, a Warrior King who would fight their battles and bring them into victory, but the package God showed up in was nothing that they could ever conceive of, hence their inability to see and embrace Jesus when he finally showed up as a baby in a manger.

The gospels each provide a varied approach and perspective on this narrative. Matthew focusses on Jesus’ genealogy, Mark picks up the story at his baptism and John introduces Jesus in a far greater and mystical way as the Cosmic Christ, one who has been present in the World since the beginning.

Luke, however, gives the fullest account of the lead up to the birth of Jesus, and reads like a beautiful play of actors who are staged to welcome this miracle baby. It’s interesting to note that this gospel author has a unique and particular emphasis when it comes to the stories he relayed, presenting Jesus as one whose message was primarily to the poor, marginalised, and outcast of the society of the day. No wonder then that his focus on the beginnings of the story highlighted the discourse between Mary & Gabriel. Mary, herself a teenager, who would have felt the great burden of the invitation, as well as the shame she would have experienced as an unmarried mother-to-be, causing her to leave town and spend time with her cousin Elizabeth, also with child (John the Baptist) but well in her old age.

In the Catholic tradition Mary is venerated and given the title, ‘Mother of God’. She was either just a ‘gestational house’ for Jesus, or her egg was actually fused with God’s spirit or seed, to produce this God-Man. The latter scenario affords her the title, whereas the former somehow reduces her part to play in the story. The Catholic tradition is also known for her ability to live with ‘mystery’, more than the Protestant Church who prefer to camp around what is ‘known’ and able to be nailed down. To consider the importance of Mary is to open up the conversation around the place that we as humans have to play in bringing Jesus to the World today.

Why did the Creator of the Universe come in smallness, weakness and hiddenness, and land in bodily form on this planet, a human being?[1] What other major world religion has their founder and leader arriving in this way? 

The four cornerstones that hold up our Jesus Story are his Passion, Resurrection, Ascension and Incarnation. Historically the first three have overshadowed the last, supporting and strengthening a ‘Fall & Redemption’ focus; i.e. the purpose of Jesus’ coming was to respond to the problem of sin in Genesis. This is of course a major part of the story, but to overlook the Incarnation; Jesus coming to show us who God is, and who we also are, both allows for and breeds an air of contempt and judgement for humanity which leads to the same attitude towards all things created, consequently aiding in the plight of such that we are witnessing today.

To consider Jesus’ incarnation, the revealing of God in human form as a primary focus itself invites us into a kinder and more loving way of being with each other, and earth our common home.

I would like to suggest that Jesus came primarily to show us who we are, how to live and how to die. His own pattern of birth, life, death and life provide for us a beautiful safety net, one in which we can fall into every time we become anxious about the things we don’t know. God becoming flesh and dwelling among us shows us that we are embedded in a kind Universe, one set up for our success not our failure, held together by a loving God who we can trust, because God became one of us.

Israel waited for 1500 years for the promised Messiah. Jesus arrived as a baby and grew into the full stature of his humanness. When he departed earth he breathed on his disciples filling them his with wairua-spirit, empowering them to become his body here on earth.  That was 2000 years ago, and we continue the legacy of those he commissioned; our task just to continue to image God and to love the people and world around us (and leave the rest of the big stuff to God)?

Linda Burson Swift

[1] Phillipians 2

Advent 2018Clint Gibson