Incarnation

Jesus of Nazareth: Week 2

Incarnation
Thursday, January 25, 2017
(Feast of St. Paul)

Incarnation should be the primary and compelling message of Christianity. Through the Christ (en Christo), the seeming gap between God and everything else has been overcome “from the beginning” (Ephesians 1:4, 9). [1] Incarnation refers to the synthesis of matter and spirit. Without some form of incarnation, God remains essentially separate from us and from all of creation. Without incarnation, it is not an enchanted universe, but somehow an empty one.

God, who is Infinite Love, incarnates that love as the universe itself. This begins with the “Big Bang” approximately 14 billion years ago, which means our notions of time are largely useless (see 2 Peter 3:8). Then, a mere 2,000 years ago, as Christians believe, God incarnated in personal form as Jesus of Nazareth. Matter and spirit have always been one, of course, ever since God decided to manifest God’s self in the first act of creation (Genesis 1:1-31), but we can only realize this after much longing and desiring. Most indigenous religions somehow recognized the sacred nature of all reality, as did my Father St. Francis, when he spoke of “Brother Sun and Sister Moon.” It was always hidden right beneath the surface of things.

The dualism of the spiritual and so-called secular is precisely what Jesus came to reveal as untrue and incomplete. Jesus came to model for us that these two seemingly different worlds are and always have been one. We just couldn’t imagine it intellectually until God put them together in one body that we could see and touch and love (see Ephesians 2:11-20). And—in Christ­—“you also are being built into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22). What an amazing realization that should shock and delight us!

The final stage of incarnation is resurrection. This is no exceptional miracle only performed once in the body of Jesus. It is the final and fulfilled state of all divine embodiment. Now even physics tells us that matter itself is a manifestation of spirit, a vital force, or what many call consciousness. In fact, I would say that spirit or shared consciousness is the ultimate, substantial, and real thing. [2] Yet most Christians, even those who go to church each Sunday, remain limited to a largely inert materiality for all practical purposes. Such emptiness sends us on a predictable course of consumerism and addiction—because matter without spirit is eventually unsatisfying and disappointing.

Matter also seems to be eternal. It just keeps changing shapes and forms, the scientists, astrophysicists, and biblical writers tell us (Isaiah 65:17 and Revelation 21:1). In the Creed, Christians affirm that we believe in “the resurrection of the body,” not only the soul. The incarnation reveals that human bodies and all of creation are good and blessed and move toward divine fulfillment (Romans 8:18-30).

Death is not final, but an opening and a transition for ever new forms of life. An Infinite God necessarily creates infinite becoming. God is the one who “brings death to life and calls into being what does not yet exist” (Romans 4:17b).

References:
[1] This is the theme of Richard Rohr’s forthcoming book on the Universal Christ (to be released fall 2018).
[2] For more on quantum physics and incarnation, see Diarmuid O’Murchu, Quantum Theology: Spiritual Implications of the New Physics (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 1997, 2004).

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2003), 117-119; and
Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (Franciscan Media: 2008), 17.

Image credit: The Incredulity of Saint Thomas (detail), by Caravaggio, 1601-02, Sanssouci, Potsdam.
The dualism of the spiritual and so-called secular is precisely what Jesus came to reveal as untrue and incomplete. Jesus came to model for us that these two seemingly different worlds are and always have been one. We just couldn’t imagine it intellectually until God put them together in one body that we could see and touch and love. —Richard Rohr
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