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Reflections

On a recent Christmas Eve morning, writer Vance Morgan noticed that a Facebook friend had posted a poll posing the question:                                          Which is more meaningful to you—Christmas or Easter?

He was so intrigued by the question that he posted his own Facebook poll asking the same question, and then he compared notes between his results and that of his friend.

The results were strikingly similar between the two.

While many respondents commented that their vote was based on external things such as which season of the holiday they like best -winter or spring –

the most interesting comments were from those who made their choice on what these two holidays mean to them as people of faith.

The underlying faith question here is: Which is more central to your Christian faith—the Incarnation or the Resurrection?

With over one hundred respondents, 76% voted for Easter, 24% for Christmas.

About these results Morgan unapologetically proclaimed that the majority are wrong because, for him at least, it’s all about the incarnation.

He goes on to support his contention by launching into a quick lesson in the origins of the word ‘incarnation.’

He points out that the Latin word ‘carnis’ means ‘meat,’ and it’s where we get ‘carnal,’ ‘carnivore,’ ‘carnage’ and similar words such as our word of the day… ‘incarnation.’

While the term is widely used in relation to the birth of Jesus, at its roots it means to become meat, and to put skin around it.

And this, my friends, this carnal thing,                                                                           is one of God’s greatest gifts in response to our human needs…                                our hopes, sorrows, desire, pain, joy, and suffering … the gift being to make holiness accessible by wrapping it in flesh and skin.

And from there many Christians think of Jesus and that’s what Christmas is about.

Here’s the thing, though.  And it’s a biggie.                                                         This divine gifting doesn’t begin and end with Jesus.

On a given day, in a given situation, that incarnated God might be you.                It might be me.

Morgan recalls singing a Sunday School song that included the lines                “we are his hands, we are his feet.”

I suppose it could seem a bit scandalous…the proclamation “I am the presence of God in the world.”  You might get passed off for someone whose antipsychotic script needs to be refilled.

But in truth, there is such beauty in this incarnation story:                                 God entrusting us, human beings, to be the presence of divine love in the world.

When we’re looking to be inspired, we tend to look for the profound, the mystical…beyond life as we know it in the day to day…

…when in reality one of the most profound truths of our faith is that God comes to us in an everyday way of someone being born.

We gather today – millions in the world gather today and tomorrow – to celebrate this occasion of Jesus being born, and we hardly consider it mundane!

We haven’t missed the significance of that event.  Trickier, though, is embracing the mystery and beauty that this incarnation continues in us.

We are God’s hands and feet—fleshy and meaty and skin-covered as we are.

I think of the song “What the world needs now is love, sweet love.”

Or more for our purposes, what the world needs now is more recognition of our own divine nature.

Barbara Brown Taylor writes about this, saying:

The last thing any of us needs is more information about God. We need the practice of incarnation, by which God saves the lives of those whose intellectual assent has turned as dry as dust, who have run frighteningly low on the bread of life, who are dying to know more God in their bodies.

In their bodies. There’s that flesh thing again. Think about it….                                as you were growing up were you affirmed about how godly your body was?

Did you ever hear from your parents or your pastor about how inherently sacred your body was, or how God takes delight (and residence) in your body?

I certainly didn’t.   Most of the body messages I got had to do with weight control and what not to be doing with my body or with other someone else’s.

And yet at the heart of Christianity is a love so great that God chooses to be embodied in our humanity – what an intimate expression of solidarity and presence and tenderness!

I wonder how different A) the world would be, and

  1. B) our personal and spiritual lives would be if we took a sliver of our holiday/holy day attention, and applied it to our own divine embodiment.

There was a guy at a university in Minnesota who got this.

As story has it, Benedictine priest Godfrey Dieckmann was an urban legend at St. John’s University…apparently he was a progressive who did a lot to reform Catholic liturgy.

One evening while eating with colleagues and students in the student dining room, Dieckmann got involved in a spirited conversation about the heart of Christian theology and life.

From the sounds of it, they were debating our Facebook poll question.

This priest startled those at his table as well as those within earshot by slamming his hand on the table and shouting “It’s not the Resurrection. It’s the Incarnation!”

(I guess we know which way he would’ve voted).

As students, stunned into silence, slowly slipped away, he added                               “But we don’t believe it.                                                                                             We don’t believe that we are invited to become the very life of God.”

 

I agree.  I agree because I think it – the purpose of Jesus’ birth and life that we promise every week to carry on – is mostly about what happens after our birth in our lives.

  This Christmas season, may our celebration pertain, yes, to Jesus, but also be an invitation to celebrate our own incarnation.

We have a responsive reading that speaks to this. Kathryn will lead you in it now.

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