“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God. … The Word became flesh and has lived among us.” We have grown used to these words. God has come to humanity, has partaken of its nature, has become one with humankind. God became part of the cosmos, became dependent upon earth, water, fire and air. God partook of our history. God became human and took part in our brokenness, made the ruin of this world God’s own. God became finite and powerless. The dirt, sweat, and blood of the world stuck to God’s skin. That is God. Such is Jesus. This is the incarnation.
It is a movement from above to below. A radical movement. We often conceive of the incarnation as step 1 in a total of 2. The goal is to return to the dimension from above: step 2. It cannot happen too soon. Just as Jesus went up at the ascension so we hope to go and be with him. Away from the world. Away from blood, pain, dust, and decay. But didn’t the angels say that this Jesus, whom they just saw ascend up into heaven, would return the same way? It is a movement from above to below. A radical movement.
With the incarnation God says Yes to this world. It is a radical Yes. It is a Yes to flesh and blood, bodiliness, a world of dust and rust. So, why do we want to leave? What urges us to long for a heaven with our disembodied souls? Don’t we realize that God has an eye on this world? Don’t we see that this departure attitude cuts against the grain of God’s movement? Many Christians are not worried about pollution of the environment or ecological disasters for “this earth shall pass away.” We’re not too concerned about injustice, racism, or oppression, for this world has already been given up.
This is not how God thinks about the world. God sent God’s Son. God’s movement is toward earth. It is God’s self-movement. It is a permanent movement; an irrevocable endeavor of God, a stream that cannot be countered. If the Church of Christ truly wants to be the body of Christ in this world, then it will have to flex its muscles in rhythm with the movement of God. A movement toward the world: embracing the poor, walking with those who journey for justice, labor with those who preserve the earth. The Church belongs to the world for Jesus belongs to the world.
The Church needs to be God’s Yes to the world. The movement of God in Jesus toward the world needs to take shape in and through the Church. The Church is the body of Jesus. It is the extension of the incarnation of the Word. Just as the Word became flesh, the Church needs to become the embodiment of the enfleshed Word. The Church can and may be nothing less than, let’s say, the re-incarnation of the Word. The Church does not speak a lifeless and fleshless word that has an abstract orientation toward heaven, but is itself a word of flesh and blood. Christ needs to be born again, incarnated, in the Church so that the Church, like Jesus, will be enabled to give itself to the world in order to be broken for that world in its embodied reality of the love of God. That, for me, is the meaning of the incarnation.