Living “en Christo”

Incarnation

Living “en Christo”
Sunday, December 22, 2019

Incarnation, the synthesis of matter and spirit, 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). 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” nearly 13.8 billion years ago, which means our human 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 it seems we could only meet this presence in personal form after much longing and desiring. Most indigenous religions also recognized the sacred and even personal nature of all reality, as did my father St. Francis of Assisi (1182–1226) who spoke of “Brother Sun and Sister Moon.” Incarnation was always hidden right beneath the surface of things.

Jesus came to reveal the dualism of the spiritual and so-called secular as untrue and incomplete. By his very existence, Jesus modeled 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). 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!

You are the body of Christ; you are the incarnation, too. Augustine (354–430) said this already in the early fifth century. The sacrament, the bread, is only for the sake of the people, to transform the people, to let them know that they are what they eat. [1]

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 suggests 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.

But matter itself also seems to be eternal. It just keeps changing shapes and forms, as 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 just the soul. The incarnation reveals that human bodies and all of creation are good and blessed and moving toward divine fulfillment (Romans 8:18-30).

References:
[1] See Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 272, “On the day of Pentecost to the Infantes, on the Sacrament.” Text available at https://stanselminstitute.org/files/Augustine,%20Sermon%20272.pdf.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2003), 117-119;

Franciscan Mysticism: I AM That Which I Am Seeking, disc 1 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2012), CD, MP3 download; and

Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (Franciscan Media: 2008), 17.

Image credit: Flight into Egypt (detail), Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1923, Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Once we can accept that God is in all situations, and that God can and will use even bad situations for good, then everything becomes an occasion for good and an occasion for God. —Richard Rohr
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