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Rector's Blog

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Why did God become Man?

StNicholas Goulburn

Incarnation.jpg

What does the Incarnation mean for us?

 
The Incarnation: the extraordinary, mind-boggling way in which God became one of us in Jesus. There is an awesome mystery in how God becomes flesh. It is incomprehensible but not illogical.

Christmas carols celebrate this truth. Take for instance ‘O come, all ye faithful’.

The second verse goes as follows:

God of God,
Light of Light,
Lo, he abhors not the virgin’s womb;
Very God,
Begotten, not created:
O come, let us adore him,
Christ the Lord.

There are some powerful insights wrapped up in language that we probably would not use ourselves today. What is being said here – and it’s largely taken from one of the great creeds of the church – is something along the following lines.

First, the utterly perfect God – he who was ‘Light of Light’ – was prepared to accept being confined in the darkness of Mary’s womb.
Second, the infant Jesus is not something created by God but someone who actually is God.
Third, the carol encourages us to adore Jesus as God.
The Incarnation is so important that it changes almost everything. Let me draw your attention to two specific issues.

The Incarnation tells us that history has a purpose. The 18th-century historian Edward Gibbon wrote cynically that ‘History is indeed little more than the register of crimes, follies, and misfortunes of humankind.’ Yet if God chose to become a member of the human race then that shows his commitment to us and our world. We may not understand where history is going but if we believe in the Incarnation we can be assured it is in safe hands. The fact that God loved this world so much that he became one of us is a guarantee that our world has a future.
 
The Incarnation tells us that human beings have dignity and value. Our modern way of thinking has greatly distorted how we human beings think of ourselves. Once upon a time human beings considered themselves to be utterly unique and above everything else. We were made in the image of God and just a little lower than the angels. Such a view had its problems and was abused, but we knew who we were. Today we hear from those who understand biology that we are no more than animals. We hear from those inspired by technology, that much of what makes us special is either already, or soon will be, duplicated by computers. The combination of both views produces the conclusion that the human race is merely a temporary interlude between a world dominated by animals and one governed by robots.

On a practical level, business and industry view us simply as ‘consumers’ or ‘purchasers’. Politicians see us as no more than ‘the electorate’. Everywhere there are bureaucracies that treat us as no more than digits on a spreadsheet. You don’t have to be paranoid to worry that, in the modern world human beings are becoming disposable items.

The Incarnation stands utterly against this depressing view.

It’s an old idea that, in Jesus, God descended to where we are so that we might ascend to where he is. He became a child that we might become children of God.

Take home a truth for yourself at Christmas. God is committed to this world and to you. There is a value to this world and a value to you. At the start of the Bible it says that God created human beings in his image. Yet in the Nativity of Christ, God becomes one of us, and we now understand that we human beings are indeed in the image of God. To see any human being is to see something that God allowed himself to become. That truth has a meaning for everybody we are in contact with. Whoever you meet – whether they are a street cleaner or a film star, a brilliant student or a senior citizen, or someone from the other end of the world – when you look at them you see the image of God.

WHAT IS A MAN?

ross.hathway@stnicholasgoulburn.org

Psalm 8.4. "What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?"

In raising this question, the psalmist participated in one of humanity's oldest pursuits: understanding itself. Philosophers, theologians, and scientists from every age and tradition have pursued this question endlessly, producing myriad perspectives and answers.[i] Yet we might well wonder why this is such a difficult question to answer. Of course we know what a human person is. We are human persons. Indeed, there seems to be nothing with which we are so intimately involved as our knowledge of what it means to be human. We experience "humanity" everyday in ourselves and in our relationships with the people around us. The school yard workplace shopping centre and club tell us that. I might not be able to tell you exactly what an armadillo is, but I know all about what it means to be human.

Despite our intimate familiarity with being human, however, we continue to be plagued with uncertainty about what it means to be human. Modern society is characterized by an ever-growing uncertainty that it is even possible to offer such an answer. The current PC debates about LGBTI gender issues is one such example to my mind.

We are not only uncertain about our ability to answer the question of identity, "Who am I?" but we can also see a growing lack of confidence in our ability even to answer the question of essence, "What am I?" The TV docos are the ‘Everyman’ result of how the modern era has witnessed a remarkable number of new scientific and philosophical disciplines dedicated to understanding the human. Yet none of these offers answers that ultimately satisfying. Should we understand human persons as Homo sapiens, members of the animal kingdom distinguished by certain biological characteristics? Certainly; but, is that adequate? Would not most people affirm that the human person is somehow "more" than the sum of his or her biological characteristics? Even with the advent of the neurosciences and their remarkable ability to analyze the complex factors that comprise a person's cognitive and psychological processes, we still resist the notion that these really capture the essence of what it means to be human. Confidence that we really understand humanity remains elusive. Thus, the more a human person keeps on slipping out of his own grasp and becomes more of a puzzle to himself, the more possible solutions he has available in the form of outlines of what human is. The more possible answers he has, the more he feels he is in a hall of a thousand mirrors and masks, the more unintelligible he is to himself.

Despite our intimate familiarity with being human, it would seem that there are mysterious depths to the human person that constantly evade us. Yet the significant implications that attach to how we answer the anthropological question mean that the query cannot simply be issues such as genetic engineering, human cloning, artificial intelligence, and globalization as well as the challenges of racism, classism, and sexism. Responding to these existential issues adequately, however, is inseparable from who and what we understand ourselves to be. Our answers to the questions "Who am I?" and "What am I?" are intimately connected to the question of "How ought to be in the world?" Any description of human nature always both presumes and entails a prescription for human living. The what/who questions and the how question are inseparable.'

Movies ask these questions. Do we have free will? What is the nature of being? And of course the anthropologists ask these questions too. Indeed any attempt to discuss human "ontology" for example, the body/soul relationship, the nature of "free will," are related to the pressing concerns of living humanly in the world. So abstract discussions have a direct bearing on practical realities.

Our "abstract" understanding of human nature is enfleshed in the everyday decisions that we make as we live out our humanity.

There is nothing abstract about Jesus.

 

[i] For much of this article I am indebted to Marc Cortez. Theological Anthropology: A Guide for the Perplexed (Guides for the Perplexed) (Kindle Locations 35-38). Kindle Edition.

 

A long way from home

StNicholas Goulburn

 

Proverbs 13:12

‘Hope deferred makes the heart sick but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life’.

Romans 8:26

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.

 

Are you like me in scrambling for words at times? Words not only describe how we feel, they also distinctly shape how we understand our feelings. As complex emotional beings, we need terminology for fear and self-doubt, longing and desire. In short, we must be taught to explain ourselves to ourselves as well as to others.

Homesickness is one such word that seems inadequate. Whether it is Aborigines who died when taken from their country in the European settlement or the Israelites who were told to sing their songs in the Babylonian exile (see Psalm 137) homesick patients experience symptoms of depression and fatigue. They also suffer physical ailments. In some cases the Aborigines refused to eat, growing so weak as to eventually die. They were said to die of ‘Nostalgia”.

Our Oldest Desire

Nostalgia may have disappeared from our medical dictionaries, but we haven’t cured the ache for home. To be human is to know the grief of some paradise lost. Each of us—however happily settled—suffers a foreboding sense of rupture, as if we’ve been cut off from some hidden source of happiness.

We’re not unlike Lot, the nephew of Abraham, who parts from his uncle upon arriving in Canaan. When given first pick of the land, without any living memory of Eden, Lot scans the horizon and settles in the well-watered Jordan Valley because it bears resemblance to “the garden of the Lord” (Genesis 13:10).

Lot suffered nostalgia­­—sickness of [a lost] country.

Home represents humanity’s most visceral ache—and our oldest desire.

Biblical words related to home can denote physical dwelling, family household, material possessions, and geographical and social connections. But these words only hint at the emotional dimensions of the word ‘home’. ‘Home’means more than bricks and mortar. In part, its walls are safety, its windows, welcome. Provided there’s intimacy and a sense of belonging, a home can be made in almost any place.

Home represents humanity’s most visceral ache—and our oldest desire.

 

Common to Western literature is the longing for home. It understands that ‘home’ is the place for being recognized, received and remembered.

This morning I took Mrs Alsop’s funeral. Funerals are a wakeup call to our mortality. In the face of death, home, as perceived stability, is one hedge against deaths terror. We read John 14:1-6 which reminds us Christ has prepared a place- a home for us. We also read 1 Corinthians 15:42-58 which speaks of how reveille will sound and the dead shall be raised. Death will not sting or be victorious. 

And so we long for home because welcome was our first gift of grace and it will be our last. We’re hardwired for place and for permanence, for rest and refuge, for presence and protection. As writer Julian Barnes put it in his novel Nothing to Be Frightened Of, we live with “the vicious awareness that this is a rented world.” The grass withers, and the flowers fade: Ours is an impermanent life. At the very least, home is a steadying consolation when the lights go out.

The great novels are a powerful literary witness to human nostalgia. The world’s greatest writers give voice to our inexorable grief at lostness and our irrepressible joy at being found.

Homelessness—whether physical or spiritual—is the terror of the elements and the threat of an angry sky. Home is the dry place we’re all searching for. Humans need home.

In a very real sense, then, homesickness is health.

The biblical narrative begins and ends at home. From the garden of Eden to the New Jerusalem, we’re hardwired for place and for permanence, for rest and refuge, for presence and protection. We long for home because welcome was our first gift of grace, and it will be our last. The setting of our first home and our last home testify to the nature of the embodied story God is writing in human history.

Because God’s story begins in a garden and ends in a city, our sense of place isn’t incidental to Christian hope, just as bodies aren’t incidental to salvation. God will resurrect our bodies, and he will—finally—bring us home.

From Genesis to Revelation we learn that God in and through Christ will never leave any of his children to homelessness.