Advent I – "The Incarnation with New Eyes – Pt 1”
November 23, 2022, 8:00 AM

Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers.  Romans 13:11

Advent is upon us once again. There is an initial jump for joy in my heart as the Christmas season approaches, and then I hear the words of prophets promising hope, peace, love, and joy. It is then that reality sinks in. I’ve heard these promises before, year after year after year. Has anything really changed? Is salvation nearer to me now than in the past?

Millions of people continue to die each year from hunger. Corporations continue to plunder the earth and environment. Wars linger. The war in Ukraine lingers like a bad odor around a garbage pile, and the air is stagnant with little hope of peace. Love has been fermented into hatred on both sides of those fighting the war. In hunting for food, shelter, or finding the body of a loved one, joy has nowhere to hang its hat.

Perhaps, what the Apostle Paul says about the church is more relevant today than ever, “Now is the moment to wake from sleep.” The call of Advent is upon us, and the church is again caught sleeping. She naps while the prophets utter God’s words of hope, peace, love, and joy.

With the beginning of Advent, we attempt to embrace God’s words. Incarnation is the term the church uses to announce that God has come to us in human form through a baby named Jesus. We like the nativity story with a little soft baby in a manger, a warm mother, a starry-sky filled with angels, visiting shepherds, and traveling wise men who come from afar.

Why did this event happen? Our response is immediate. We cough up an answer that the institutional church has given us, namely, “Jesus came to save us from our sins.” God the Father hates sin, and Jesus must die in order to save us from being punished by God the Father. Through Jesus’ death, we obtain salvation. Doing a few good works helps to quell the Father’s wrath, and makes sliding into heaven a little easier. End of story.

The above interpretation of a personal salvation story is pervasive in the church. It is based upon the assumption that people and the world are bad – very bad. Human beings through Adam are fallen creatures who need to be saved from their sin or badness. Thus, Incarnation is framed from the start within the context of God's response to a mistake (Adam’s fall) that should never have happened in the first place, except to create a reason for Jesus to come.

Once we believe that we are saved by Jesus, we are on God’s “winning side.” We can then tell the same Incarnation story year-after-year without needing to do anything to actively change the world. Jesus does all of the work to save us. He does all of the work required to change the world. This interpretation holds up in our minds until we actually look at the world. We look for hope, peace, love, and joy, and we see little to nothing happening. The question arises, what does God actually do?

Is the Incarnation in Christianity a failure? One of the best responses to this question was made by the British writer G.K.  Chesterton, “Christianity isn’t a failure, it just hasn’t been tried yet.”1 “Not tried yet,” it’s been around for over 2000 years! My personal response is that it is yet to be discovered.

Perhaps, the reason that the promises of the prophets appear to be unfulfilled rests in the church’s historic, single interpretation of the Incarnation. Prior to the formation of the ecclesiastical church, the desert fathers and mothers saw salvation and the Incarnation of Jesus very differently. There was no ecclesial doctrine.

There is an alternative interpretation of the Incarnation. The alternative interpretation is that the world is made good (read Genesis 1, if you disagree), and continues to be created in goodness. Humankind remains good. Yet, human beings are caught in an illusion that creation stopped at the end of seven days in a state of stability and perfection.

Creation, however, is still ongoing, as seen in the recent discoveries within the galaxy. We are part of an ongoing creation. We feel the effects of a continuing creation by experiencing pain, sickness, animosity, and even death. We also feel joy, love, and, at times, peace. These things are all part of the activities of an unfinished creation that is headed toward all encompassing love.

Our minds and bodies long for a return to the stability and perfection found in a Garden of Eden where there is no pain or death. We tenaciously adhere to this belief - one that is reinforced by the teachings of the historical church.

Each year in Advent, we sadly look for a pseudo-Incarnation whose goal is to recreate a perfect and stable world – one where human beings can be rescued from all forms of discomfort by Jesus. The consequence of this hard-core belief may be one of the reasons that we still do not see the fullness of hope, peace, love, and joy in this world.

What does the Incarnation really mean if Jesus the Christ himself did not come to end discomfort and eventual death? Was there another purpose? Was there another mission?

Ponder these questions. Remember that Advent is a time for waiting, prayer, and seeking a deeper communal relationship with God.

This dialogue will continue in next week’s Franciscan Fractal entitled, “The Incarnation with New Eyes – Part 2.”

Blessings and Prayers,

Fr. John

1 G.K. Chesterton, What's Wrong with the World (1910).  See The Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton, vol. IV (Ignatius Press: 1987), 61. 

   Resource:  Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind - a New Perspective on Christ and His Message (Shambhala: 2008). 

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