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Friday, December 17, 2010

Incarnation: Inconvenient Glory

"Tis the season to think about Incarnation. Two sermons by one of the primary mentors of our faith start us thinking. The Incarnation is so radical, that we all drift towards heresy to avoid it. Surely the nature of God, of Jesus, of truth, is primarily spiritual. Surely the intangibles of Christmas are what really matter, peace and love and all that. Any indulgence in things that can be wrapped with crinkly colorful paper, or ingested and digested, seems un-Christian, a pagan distraction from the pristine and unsullied spiritual realm. But is it? Skip points us to 1 Cor 1: a marred saviour, human, paradoxically weak, fleshily real.

God embraced the body. Can I? Mine has been frustratingly inconvenient lately. Last week we anticipated the highlight of our short furlough, the gift of two nights away at a luxurious hotel, just the two of us. It was a gift that was urged upon us by people wiser than we are, that we almost missed receiving through our inertia of rush. As the day approached I started downing multiple meds and recruiting a few praying friends for three different infections and a strained knee. To spare you all the details, you can just smile imagining the most noticeable one: a swollen red nose due to deep skin infection, attractive only to someone with a Rudolph fetish, and leaving me feeling wiped out. The day we drove out to the Inn was probably one of the physically weakest days of my year. We planned to start our retreat with a hike up to the mountaintop which was the scene of our first date, and the site of our engagement. But forty-mile-an-hour winds had downed trees closing the road. So random as to be so noticeable. Surely God had a point.

Yes, the physical concrete nature of our existence can be mightily inconvenient. But as the meds kicked in by evening, and we entered into the peaceful order of this Inn, the inconvenience gave way to glory. A glowing fire and towering lighted Christmas tree, gourmet food served by candlelight. A balcony in the mornings which absorbed the 20-degree sunshine for blanket-wrapped Bible reading. Exploring the machines in the fitness center, running over crunch-frosted grass on the golf course. Reading uninterrupted in the silent afternoon. Dashing over the patio to an outdoor hot tub in the moonlight, simmering in the 103-degree water while our damp hair froze into ice-sicles under the stars. A door opened into a taste of Heaven, outside of time.

But that experience was very physical, taste and touch and sight and smell and sound. As, if you think about it, even the "intangibles" are, peace and love must be enjoyed through our living bodies.

The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us. Christmas is all about the inconvenience of that, but also the glory of it. The squalling hunger of the infant Jesus but also the milky pleasure of being satisfied by his mother. The excruciating nails splitting his palms, but also the gloriously healed scars in His resurrected hands.

So let us not apologize for the body (the first reaction of our fallen parents, shame and fig leaves) because it is in the flesh that we shall see God.

And let us not doubt the Kingdom-wholeness of goats' milk and kitengi-quilts and mission as medicine. Let us not measure the value of ministry-diversity on a heretical scale where only the translation into spiritual truly "counts". Let us not give succulent Christmas feasts and a gift you can hold or wear pharisaically suspicious glances. Because Jesus redeems us body and soul, until the paradox of incarnation dissolves into fully convenient glory.

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