Advent and Incarnation: Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
Advent and Incarnation
I wrote this essay three years ago in 2018. The mid-term elections had already been held. We knew nothing of a virus named Covid-19. In that year, families had gathered for Thanksgiving without fear. Although we did not know it, and could barely imagine it, over 700,000 people were going to die. Even now, almost 1000 people a day lose their lives to a mutating virus as deaths in the US have eclipsed every other country. Three years ago, we did not know the name of George Floyd, nor had we witnessed a mob attack the US Capitol. It is enough to make one wonder in 2021 if God is angry with us…
Advent is upon us. Yesterday, the first Sunday of Advent, also marks the beginning of the Church Year. Our brothers and sisters in the Eastern Church mark this time as the “Nativity Fast”, marking the 40 days before the Feast of the Nativity, Christmas. So they began their season of preparation on November 15th this year.
Nevertheless, we are all participating in this season of anticipation. We anticipate the coming of Christ at the end of the age. We mark that Christ has come among us as the Messiah as John the Baptist points us to him. We celebrate the coming of Christ to us in the Lord’s Supper and, finally, we enter into the mystery of the birth of the babe of Bethlehem with all that birth entails.
Yet in all our celebration and anticipation there is a subtext – God is coming to us. He is coming down from heavenly places to become involved in our lives – in his birth, in his ministry on earth during his life among us, in the mystery of the Lord’s Supper, in his judgement of the world at his second coming. Yet, this is only half the story of the Incarnation. Indeed, we have reduced the Incarnation to a construct in which Christ is merely the means by which God reveals His will and purpose to us and who then assists us in carrying out that will and purpose in our lives and in his creation. Moreover, we sometimes are concerned that God is coming among us… and he is angry.
Let me suggest the other half of the story which, in my mind, is the most amazing part of the story. It is also the part of the story that is most often neglected.
God is not merely sending us a “message” in the person of His Son. Nor is God merely sending us “help” in the person of His Son. The other part of the story is that the Incarnation is the manner in which humanity through Christ is actually united to God himself. Incorporation into Christ becomes the way of incorporation into God. This is what Incarnation, what all of Advent recalls and calls us to: the actual union of humanity with God. All too often, we think of the Incarnation as being one-sided. We think of God coming down to involve himself and participate in our concerns, our needs, our tragedies, our failures. We neglect the other part of the story, the truth that humanity itself is caught up into the life of God through Christ who is born, lives, ascends and returns.
Indeed, according to the Athanasian Creed, this is how we are to understand the nature of God, the nature of the Trinity, and, indeed, the nature of Christ and the Incarnation for, “although he is God and Man; yet he is not two, but one Christ. One; not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh; but by taking the manhood into God.” Once we see the Incarnation in these terms, our theology must assume a different shape. The manner in which we look at the men and women around us must take on a different perspective. Perhaps most importantly, the way that we look at ourselves and our worth in the sight of God must undergo a change.
In Advent Christ comes to us. Yet he comes to us bearing within himself our humanity – my humanity, your humanity, your neighbor’s humanity. He comes with that essential humanity in the manger of Bethlehem. He comes with that essential humanity in his life among us. He comes with that essential humanity in his appearance at the end of the age. He comes with that essential humanity in bread and wine, body and blood. As he comes to us in that essential humanity, he also comes to us bearing the essential nature of God:
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.”
God is not angry with you. He loves you.
Wishing you a Blessed Advent filled with Christ’s love.