Friday, November 30, 2012

Waiting on Emmanuel



by Ben Howard

The season of Advent begins on Sunday. If you’re unfamiliar with the Christian calendar, Advent is a time of waiting that takes place for the four weeks leading up to Christmas. It is a time of anticipation and reflection before we celebrate the arrival of Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God With Us.

It’s one of my favorite times of the year because it’s both optimistic and reflective. It’s weighty, but it’s also beautiful.

Even more, I love the season because it allows the Church to focus on the Incarnation. I love talking about the Incarnation. I love talking about why God would become man, what that means for humanity, and how it should affect who we strive to be.

You see, I feel like in a lot of Christian traditions they view Jesus as a springboard to salvation. God became human so that he could die for our sins. To be a bit crass about it, the Incarnation was the Emergency Backup Plan for when humanity sinned. Sure, he told some nice stories and undermined the religious tradition for a bit, but the point of Christ was to be a sacrifice for the sins of humanity.

But I’m not so sure that’s true. In fact, I’m pretty sure that it isn’t.

There’s an idea prevalent in the Eastern Church that the Incarnation wasn’t something that God sketched out after humanity messed up, but was part of the plan all along. Essentially, even if humanity had done wonderfully, God still would have become man, Emmanuel still would have come, because God wanted to be with us.

In this telling of the Incarnation, it’s not a story about salvation necessarily, it’s a story about love and proximity. It’s a story that says God made us so that he could be with us and that the best way to be with his creation was to be part of his creation. The best part of being in love is being with the person you love. That’s the story we tell about heaven, in whatever way you describe it, so why shouldn’t it be the story we tell about the incarnation as well.

But I think the story is even more rich and beautiful and profound that God wanting to be close to us.

When I was a senior in college I did a project on Athanasius and his views of the Incarnation. Athanasius famously says that, “God became man so that we might become God.” This belief, often called divinization or theosis, argues that the reason God became human was so that humanity would have access to God’s divinity. God is with us so that we might share in the divinity of God.

Now, I’m willing to go one step farther, and I hope you don’t lose me here. I don’t know if there is a divide between humanity and divinity. We are told in Genesis that man is created in the image of God. Various points in the Bible, especially John, go to lengths to describe God as both human and divine. But what if being fully human, fully embracing what we were created to be is the same as being divine? What if Jesus is fully divine precisely because he is fully human?

What if in the Incarnation we are not being provided with a picture of a creator bending down to meet his creation, but of a creation rising up to meet its creator? What if God became man to show us the man could become God by embracing what humanity was created to be?

Then, like everyone, Jesus, fully human and fully divine, dies. I think that’s a part of the story we gloss over too quickly. In our need to feel catharsis and redemption, we too often forget that this redemption comes about in the form of resurrection, and that resurrection only comes through death.

Through the life and death of Christ we are told a story. It is not the story of how we are saved, it is the story of how we live, die, and live again. It is the story we are living, and it is the story we have yet to live. It is a story of anticipation and waiting and longing and hoping. It is the story of love and embrace and a God who empathizes through experience and not omniscience.

It is a story worth telling and it is a story worth re-telling. And so this Sunday, we begin to wait on Emmanuel.

Peace,
Ben

You can follow Ben on Twitter @BenHoward87 or email him at benjamin.howard87 [at] gmail.com.

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