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Center for Action and Contemplation

The First Incarnation

Sunday, December 18, 2022

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. —John 1:1, 3

Drawing on the wisdom of Franciscan theology, Richard Rohr views Incarnation as beginning first with the birth of the cosmos, long before the birth of Jesus:

What was God up to in those first moments of creation? Was God totally invisible before the universe began, or is there even such a thing as “before”? Why did God create at all? What was God’s purpose in creating? Is the universe itself eternal, or is the universe a creation in time as we know it—like Jesus himself?

Let’s admit that we will probably never know the “how” or even the “when” of creation. But the question that religion tries to answer is mostly the “why.” Is there any evidence for why God created the heavens and the earth? What was God up to? Was there any divine intention or goal, or do we even need a creator “God” to explain the universe?

Most of the perennial traditions have offered explanations, and they usually go something like this: Everything that exists in material form is the offspring of some Primal Source, which originally existed only as Spirit. This Infinite Primal Source somehow poured itself into finite, visible forms, creating everything from rocks to water, plants, organisms, animals, and human beings. This self-disclosure of whomever you call God into physical creation was the first Incarnation (the general term for any enfleshment of spirit), long before the personal, second Incarnation that Christians believe happened with Jesus.

When Christians hear the word “incarnation,” most of us think about the birth of Jesus, who personally demonstrated God’s radical unity with humanity. But I want to suggest that the first Incarnation was the moment described in Genesis 1, when God joined in unity with the physical universe and became the light inside of everything. This, I believe, is why light is the subject of the first day of creation.

The Incarnation, then, is not only “God becoming Jesus.” It is a much broader event, which is why John first describes God’s presence in the general word “flesh” (John 1:14). John is speaking of the ubiquitous Christ we continue to encounter in other human beings, a mountain, a blade of grass, or a starling.

“Christ” is a word for the Primordial Template (Logos or Word) through whom “all things came into being, and not one thing had its being except through him” (John 1:3). Seeing in this way has reframed, reenergized, and broadened my own religious belief, and I believe it could be Christianity’s unique contribution among the world religions.


Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope for, and Believe (New York: Convergent, 2019, 2021), 12–13.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Zoe Schaffer, Seedling (detail), 2022, Pennsylvania, photograph, Unsplash. Markus Ilg, Austria (detail), 2020, Austria, photograph, Unsplash. Benjamin Yazza, Untitled 11 (detail), 2022, New Mexico, photograph, used with permission. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

Image inspiration: The Christ in everything: nature, Advent candles and Scriptures, God in the cells of our hands.

Story from Our Community:

By reading Daily Meditations and listening to CAC podcasts, I’ve realized that God is much bigger than I was led to believe. In my life’s journey, I’ve been through many tragic experiences that have destroyed my sense of self, and have caused harm to others as well. Thankfully, though deep inner work, my true self is beginning to emerge. Going through this process is exciting and lonely at times. I cannot thank you enough for putting language to thoughts and feelings I have. This incredible journey has become so much richer now that I am learning my true identity in God: a true and loving person who shares that love with others and the natural world. —Shona C.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.


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