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Friday, May 6, 2016

Creation and Incarnation

There are some writers who are so clear in what they say, we always come away edified.  One such writer for me is Richard Rohr, the Franciscan priest who directs a Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I have read a number of Rohr’s books and use a couple in my classes.  However, I have only heard him speak one time.  That was a series of three lectures and they were quite instructive.

One line he used at that time I still remember.  Rohr said, “The incarnation happened at the Big Bang!  Jesus just personalized the incarnation.”  When he said that, immediately I wrote it down, which is why I can recall it today.  At the time I also remember how much that one-liner resonated with me.  It resonated in my gut as a true feeling.  And it resonated in my head as a good expression of the theology I would espouse.  Let me unpack the one-liner.

The first thing to be noticed is how the one-liner ties together the twin ideas of creation and incarnation.  For those who might not know what the word, incarnation, means, it simply is the fancy word to describe the verse from John’s Gospel, which says, “the Word became flesh…” (Jn 1:14).  My way of putting it says the incarnation affirms that God becomes human.  This is a radical claim and is at the heart of Christianity.

When I was in graduate school, I had the opportunity to read fairly widely and to think rather deeply.  As I did this, I began to realize the incarnation is key to my own personal theology.  The last half of Rohr’s statement puts it rather playfully.  Jesus personalizes the incarnation.  This accounts for the central role Jesus plays in the Christian tradition. This is as it should be.  I am fine with that. 

That Christian tradition says that Jesus is the one in whom God came to be and to act in human ways in our world.  Jesus modeled what God wants people to do in the world.  That is the way to understand his ministry.  We can think about some details.  Jesus worked for peace and justice.  Jesus came to be a lover---he loved everyone with whom he crossed paths.  People beyond the pale of acceptability somehow were included in the pale of acceptability.  In effect, Jesus says that we should be careful of our exclusivity.

Now let’s go to the first half of Rohr’s statement.  Rohr says that the incarnation happened at the Big Bang.  Clearly, Rohr is being his usual playful self.  I do recall the audience laughing when he put it this way.  What he is claiming is a profound thing.  Essentially, he says that the incarnation began at creation.  Again as I thought about that, I agree.  But I also realize this requires a particular way of looking at the incarnation which might not be shared by everyone.  That’s ok.

When Rohr affirms that the incarnation happens at creation, he is really talking about God’s personal involvement.  Even in the creation, God decides to be involved and invested in the creation.  Gone is the old Deistic argument that says God created the world and then stepped back and watched the world work.  The familiar image of this God is of a watchmaker.  The world is God’s watch.  After making a watch, God’s work was done.  Step back and watch it.

This is not Rohr’s approach.  God’s creative work was involved work.  We all know that part of God’s majestic creation turned into a mess.  That describes me and could describe others.  Sin made a mess of God’s intended beautiful world.  Too many of us choose not to be fair to others and not to care about others.  We were ok with injustice, poverty, anger, hate and, even, war.  Atrocities were committed in God’s name.  Significant aspects of creation groaned with pain.  And that is not finished.  As the Pope’s recent encyclical protests, the whole climate issue is perhaps the biggest and latest human sin needing radical attention.

So when the world becomes a mess, God chose the second act of incarnation, namely, to become personally human.  Jesus had and has a special role to become a new creature---to model what God intended in the first creation.  The key here is not to see Jesus as so special or unique that none of this implicates us.  This is where Rohr comes in and I join him.

I would argue the incarnation has a third act.  The third act is what each of us can do when we let God come into our humanity.  Obviously you and I are not going to become Jesus Christ.  But just as obviously, we are called to be like Christ---to be and do the kinds of things he did.  And the things he was and did are simply what God wants done on this earth.

When Jesus prayed, “Thy Kingdom come,” I figure he meant it!  He did not see the Kingdom as some post-mortem, otherworldly enterprise.  That might be part of it.  But he sees it as a here-and-now possibility. It is possible if we let God incarnate in us, too.  We become instruments of the Kingdom.

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