09 May 2014

The One Who Incarnates

“But what about you?” Jesus asked. “Who do you say I am?”
~Matthew 16:15

Jesus has always been difficult for me to wrap my head around. I have a lot of trouble understanding this mortal deity sent to save. I remember an atheist friend of mine telling me her trouble with Jesus was that if he wasn't God, then we were all just worshiping a man. This really struck me since Jesus' divinity had never made sense to me and I have spent much of my theological journey attempting to understand this figure so intrinsic to the faith of my tradition.

I must admit that I feared my uncertainty about Jesus. Christianity is, obviously, built around the divinity of Jesus and so if I was doubting that, I was doubting all of religion. I found myself at my most confused in the summer of 2006 while I was interning at Oxford Circle Mennonite Church here in Philadelphia. One Sunday the pastor was preaching on the question Jesus asked "Who do you say I am?" I was excited because I thought perhaps this sermon would offer me some clarity. I paid very close attention and I think I even took notes, searching for anything that would help me put these pieces together. But, as the sermon went on, it kept feeling all too familiar and unhelpful. It ended with the pastor basically saying: "Who is Jesus? Your Lord and Savior, who you should worship and follow." I was deflated. Nothing the pastor had said gave me new insight into Jesus' divinity. Nothing cleared up any of my confusion and doubt. I just sat there feeling so empty and lost and scared. The pastor asked us to sit and reflect on the question of who Jesus is to us and I felt the tears welling up inside of me as I thought "I don't know." But that was when I felt a presence kneeling next to me, saying "That's okay." I knew immediately it was Jesus. "It's okay if you don't know who I am. It's okay if you have doubts. Go ahead and have your crisis of faith, I will be right here next to you. I will go with you wherever you need to go." Since then I haven't feared my doubts. Since then I have been comfortable exploring and testing and coming up with crazy ideas about Jesus because I know He is walking with me. I spent the next several years trying to figure Jesus out and I think that the most important thing that I have come to believe about Jesus is that He was able to Incarnate in a way that we had not seen before or after him.

The way that I understand Incarnation is our ability to communicate God/Gospel/Kingdom/Wisdom/Love to each other. Unfortunately, this definition only breeds more need for defining. When I say God, I’m generally referring to the Trinity as I understand it (which I explained two weeks ago on this blog, in case you missed it). The Gospel is our Good News; it is what drives us to praise God. It is the knowledge that we are Loved and called to Love others. The Kingdom can be seen in quietly falling snow or it can be found at a dinner among friends or we can catch a glimpse of it as we weep for the pain we must bear or it can be felt when we laugh so hard that our stomach hurts. The Kingdom is everywhere; it is just that we do not always recognize it as such. Wisdom is our God-given understanding of the workings of the world around us and our knowledge of how to respond to those workings in a Godly way. Love is the driving force of the universe. It is passion, spirit, zeal, ardor, compassion, forgiveness, honesty, life. When you combine all of these, I think one can start to understand what I mean when I say Incarnation.

I do not believe that Jesus’ Incarnation is exclusive. Perhaps he is the only one to be capable of that full of an Incarnation in history, but we are all capable of some Incarnation. I believe that part of Jesus' purpose on Earth was to show us what we are all truly capable of. He showed us that we have the ability to heal people, both literally and figuratively. Through Jesus we saw that it is possible to live sustainably. Jesus showed us how to have true compassion for others. Most importantly, Jesus showed us what love is capable of. We should strive to live our lives like Jesus with the knowledge that we, too, are capable of Incarnation.

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