Friday, December 17, 2010

Incarnation—messin’ with Athanasius

I am preaching on Christmas Eve. A colleague is sick with the horrible flu that is going around and I am filling in. After 30 years of preaching on Christmas, I have numerous sermons for Christmas. I can do a sermon for Christmas Eve cold. But I am getting bolder and I am more rested in preparation for Christmas this year than at any other time in my life. I have also been reading and listening more to ideas that I would never have promulgated in my own parish in fear that I would upset people. So I am messing with the doctrine of the Incarnation as preparation for preaching next week.

All the emphasis on the Baby Jesus  takes away from the real meaning of Christmas-or the Incarnation. I think that Athanasius got it wrong. He said ‘God became man so that man might become god.’ It is a great one-liner, but it is lousy theology. The Incarnation is about God becoming human so that the human race might become more fully human. Our destiny is not to become god or God-like. We are made to become as fully human that we can be.

Now this is not some lame-brained humanism. I believe that in creation we are not just created what we are—we are created in hope of what we might become. And human beings are called to be all we can be. Now, I am not an Aristotelian—I don’t believe that Jesus is the perfect man that we are to become. But I do believe that I have the possibility to become, with God’s help, the best ‘muthah+’ I can be, if I am willing to trust in God and live with charity and responsibility.

Now, this image of humanity and creation puts me at odds with a whole bunch of long-held doctrines in the Church. This should not be surprising, after all I AM an Episcopalian. But it also means that I have to look hard and long at these doctrines and then be very careful about how I explain this relationship I have with a God who would love me more than life. I don’t believe that the God who created the Grand Canyon, or Victoria Falls, or Mount Everest or the Japanese Trench has ever made things that are unchanging. It is contrary to the whole make up of Creation. All atoms are in motion, I believe. And consequentially, we do not have the right to sit on our backside and complain because the world leaves us behind.

Unlike Augustine, I do not believe that humanity is born in sin. I do not believe that humanity is most assuredly damned. I believe like Tutu that we are “made for good.” And I believe that the new reformation that is happening in the emergent church is going to develop new doctrines for a technological world that can claim a wholeness and a positive way of looking at God’s incarnation in Creation. Does God need a virgin birth to signal God’s presence in a technological age? Does God need a crucified Christ to save humanity from itself? Perhaps rather than claiming the ‘total depravity of man’ we need the positive message that Christian maturity calls for living peaceful, balanced lives without the need for vengeance or competition. Perhaps instead of the futile struggle to become divine, we as human beings might claim a doctrine that challenges us to become what Jesus was, the best of what it means to be human.

The birth of an infant in a manger 2000 years ago is an image of the hope of humanity. All children call from us that same hope. It is a hope that makes life a worthwhile endeavor. It says that we humans have a chance to enter into a life of continuous call to become more than we were the day before—not HAVE more—but to BE more. What a challenge this is and what a call to excitement each day of our lives!



"The One who loved us enough to become one of us in order to show us how to walk in love with God and with each other!"

Terri said...

This is what my theology professor in seminary, Jim Griffiss taught us (or at least me). And he says in his book, The Anglican Vision, that the Incarnation is the most important Christian teachings and is the primary understanding of what it means to Christian for Episcopalians. I don't have the book in front of me or I'd give you more specifics on this. But also I am deeply formed by MacQuarrie who wrote similarly. SO - if you are looking for Episcopal/Anglican theologians to substantiate what you write you may find it in their writings....I think you are going to have an awesome Christmas Eve sermon.

SingingOwl said...

I am sure there are many points of theology on which we would disagree, but man oh mna...this is one AWESOME post! So glad I read it. Wish I could have heard the sermon...!