I remember those old school days. A book report would be due and I had been reading everything but what was prescribed! I would speed read the first and last of the story and write an adjective and adverb laden report of the ‘book’. I almost always did fairly well but I’m sure the authors would be disappointed with my short cut which gave short shrift to their hard work. Now as I re-read these classics (probably better said ‘read’), I am finding I missed out on so much.
I am wondering if this concentration on the beginning and the end of the story at the expense of the whole, is not a problem for the Church today. We do the “baby Jesus” stuff really well and we do the crucifixion and resurrection in like fashion but give less weight to the in-between bit.
Part of the post-resurrection story involves Jesus appearance to his disciples when he says, “As the father sent me so I send you.” This means of course that we are sent but it also tells us in what way we are to be as we are sent. We are to be like Jesus! If we only pay attention to the first and last events of the Jesus biography we have no idea how to do that. We can neither be immaculately conceived or die for the sins of humanity. The first and last of the story demonstrates that we cannot at all be like him. Too often we can tacitly accept this and settle for enjoyment of our personal salvation and ‘all other benefits of his passion.’ We thus become self-centred by default. I believe this is an error due to a neglect or at least a lack of emphasis on the life of Christ.
The Incarnation is not just about the nativity it is about “the Word made flesh”. It involves Jesus living in such a way that He can say “…if you have (truly) seen me you have seen the Father” It is in this incarnational way that we are ‘sent.’ This must then drive us to major not solely on what he accomplished but on how he lived.
I have been reading a number of books on this subject. Hugh Halter, Michael Frost, and Neil Cole have all come out with new books on the subject. From these I came away with a new adjective describing Jesus, guileless.
Guileless describes Jesus not because he did not have a purpose (he clearly had that) but that he did not and would not manipulate (use) people to achieve those goals. I find this really challenging because too often I am much less than guileless. Guilelessness takes a tenacious humility. The purposes of God can be accomplished without my machinations.
Many people I meet are put off by the manipulative vibe given off by the Church. We in the name of the ‘Good News’ of Jesus act unlike him. A true doctrine of the incarnation then must include Christ-likeness. This is challenging! It requires the Spirit he promised at the time of the sending.
Filled by the Spirit of God we are sent to be the Body of Christ incarnating the Good news in a way that honours the One who became flesh so that those who do receive him may be incorporated into the family of God.