Kerdh; The Cornish for Journey.

Reading material to stimulate the mind, inspire the heart and bring hope to the soul.

Kerdh; The Cornish for Journey.

Reading material to stimulate the mind, inspire the heart and bring hope to the soul.

Alex's Thoughts Pre-Lent

Looking at the readings set for Sunday 7th (Proverbs 8.1,22-31; Colossians 1.15-20; John 1.1-14) which, would you believe, is the 2nd before Lent, prompted some thoughts on what we mean by Incarnation. Looking at the Gospel reading you could be forgiven for imagining that you had dozed off and woken up with a start to find that it was Christmas already. John’s Prologue is so commonly read on Christmas Eve that we can forget that it has meaning and huge importance every season of the year – every day of the week for that matter. There are entire bookshelves filled with mighty tomes exploring these few words but let's put that aside. I want to focus on just a tiny bit of John’s Prologue – “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (John 1.14) The Word became flesh which is, speaking in technical terms, Incarnation; and that is where I would like to start. However you think of the Incarnation (and there are many views), it is a central part of Christian belief.. So what is it? What is this thing that ranks so high in importance? The answer begins in the Epistle reading today. Writing to the faithful church at Colossae, Paul describes something of the nature of Jesus. He says that God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him (Colossians 1,19); and that immediately recalls my quote from John's Gospel about the Word being made flesh. In other words, Incarnation. God in human flesh! God becoming humankind! As John Marsh puts it in his commentary on this Gospel:”God is not an object of sense; he cannot be seen by mortal eyes. Yet the incarnation of the only Son, the one who, so to speak, sits closest to the Father (in his bosom) has really made God himself known in terms of mortal flesh and life. Yet what the disciples have seen … is not some being intermediate between God and human beings, but God himself as human.” Yes, I know it takes some believing, and even to draw out some of the implications would require more than one of these musings, and more knowledge than I possess. But I can try to kindle your interest by touching on three consequences of incarnation, which may be unexpected; joie de vivre, pain and relationship. Joie de vivre First joie de vivre as the French say, or the joy of living. Many years ago, walking to and from work in Newquay I often took a route past the Junior school (as it was then) at playtime. The children would be behaving very like cattle let out into the field after their winter confinement, racing, jumping, shouting and screaming. Their love for life is something you can almost touch. Think of that Christmas when a child first is able to take in all the beauty and magic of the Christmas tree, and Santa and the baby Jesus. Remember your first "grown-up" party, when you wore your best clothes, danced your heart out, ate yourself to a standstill, and won one or two of the silly games. Just to be a part of it was enchanting. Those childhood days when we were filled with a sense of something wonderful and exciting just around the next corner become a source of more and more nostalgia as we get older. "The good old days" never refer to any particular period in history, they refer to the days of our youth; the days when our joie de vivre was still intact; the days before it had become stifled and suffocated by life's troubles and anxieties, yes, and responsibilities and pains too. Do you think that when Jesus was a boy he stood on his head? Did he walk along the top of walls when he could as easily walk beside them? Of course he did. He was God incarnate and God is life, creative, energising, bubbling-over life. "In him was life", states the Gospel of John. We can be sure it was utterly impossible for Jesus to have been a dull, solemn, feeble child or man. He was God incarnate! He was Life! He sang as he walked the lanes and fields of Galilee. He marvelled in the flowers after the spring rains. He loved the habits of the little creatures which made up the wildlife; and he stared in open-eyed delight at the panoramic landscape of northern Galilee. Here was God the Creator incarnate, walking in his creation, dancing for joy. Incarnation implies joie de vivre. It must do. Pain Secondly, if human flesh is taken on, if even God takes on human flesh, then nervous tissue is also taken on, sensitive stuff that can be seared, bruised and battered by pain. And a psyche too which may not be material, but is able to be hurt in its own sphere by love rejected, friendships ruined, enemies with all their maliciousness, all making for a broken heart. In incarnation fatigue is taken on, and all those desires and urges which go with growing up and hormones. Incarnation also involves being part of a family which may or may not be beneficial. Even more it may mean "roughing it" with people who are not necessarily nice and may be downright unpleasant. Please don't tell me incarnation stands for a metaphysical abstraction. It includes those hurting aspects of human existence very few of us, if any, escape, summed up in the word 'pain'. Incarnation inevitably involves pain, sometimes too terrible to contemplate; think of our Lord in the garden of Gesthemane. Nevertheless "the Word became flesh". God came and lived here. Human Relatedness And now, thirdly, incarnation means being tied in with other human beings. It is not possible to be a human being and live in isolation. We are all born related. Indeed each one of us comes into this world physically tied with an umbilical cord. This is soon cut but not the physical and spiritual bond. It remains for ever, and the mother is aware of it even if the offspring scarcely is as the years go by. And other relationships of varying intensities develop as life proceeds. They have to, it is not possible to be a human being without human relationships. Incarnation requires them; you will recall John Dunne's famous line - “no man is an island”.. When therefore we confess, as the whole church confesses, belief in the Incarnation, God becoming flesh and dwelling among us, we must take note of the inference - God develops human relationships. And when we look at the life of Christ as set out in the gospels we see this happening. Jesus had fellowship with all types including 'publicans and sinners'. And if all this is true is it surprising that the New Testament does not simply assert an abstract doctrine of incarnation but tells of a mother called Mary cuddling the baby boy who caused her pain when he was born but joie de vivre very soon after? Please be careful how you rub out the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke. Yes, I know there are problems, but bigger issues are at stake here than historicity. Now its time to let you off the hook. We have gone far enough into theology for this time of year with Lent fast approaching. But we shall never grasp, even a little, what incarnation means till we stop rejecting it as a theological abstraction and begin with the stories like those we love to hear at Christmas. Matthew and Luke knew what they were doing when they began there. Incarnation implies humanity in our religion. It implies "down-to-earthness". N T Wright puts it like this: “The twist in the tale for us must always be: how are these words to become flesh, how is this God to be known at ground level, in today’s world and Church? Unless we address that, Lady Wisdom (Proverbs 1.1) has made her appeal in vain. And if the answer raises a few eyebrows, so be it.”