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I is for Incarnation

Letter I designDec 9, 2019 Second Week of Advent – Day 9 of the Advent Alphabet

I is for Incarnation. Another name for Christmas is the “Feast of the Incarnation”.

When I was a child, my mother prepared our milk by mixing water with flakes poured from the red and white box of Carnation powdered milk. The result was a literally pale imitation of the real thing. Money was tight. On special occasions, like Christmas, my parents splurged and bought ”real” milk- the good stuff!

Twenty years later, while studying theology, it was hard to keep a straight face when the seminary professors spoke of the “good news” of the Incarnation. Growing up, good news meant “no-carnation”- I hated the pale bluish, thin fluid. The manufacturing process which began with milk, freeze-dried it, powdered it, and boxed it, to be reconstituted later by well-meaning parents only took away from its natural goodness.

“Incarnation” comes from the latin for “flesh”- caro. In Christian theology, it means that Jesus, is “God in the Flesh”.

There are times I find that idea as hard to swallow as I did the milk mixed from powder. Please, don’t get me wrong. I believe God sent Jesus to help us understand the incredible depth of love, and compassion that God has for us. I believe that God wants each of us to know that we are loved, and cherished, and vitally important to God’s hopes and dreams for the world.

But after Jesus’ earthly life, the people who passed on the Good News did not just deliver the message, they “processed” it. They broke it down, and put it back together, and packaged it as they saw fit. (A bit like the Carnation people do with milk!)

In the process they subtly changed the focus from God’s love and acceptance, to our need to “accept Jesus”. I find no evidence in the Gospels that Jesus was drawing attention to himself. Jesus wanted everyone to feel free to approach God with the confidence of a child who knows that they are loved. I don’t believe Jesus was trying to start a new religion, or to ever have people worship him.

One unfortunate result of the “Jesus is God” idea taken to its extreme, is the inference which is drawn, that if you don’t know about Jesus, or make Jesus the focus of your religion, you can’t possibly know anything about God, or God’s love.

The powdered milk people have a vested interest in convincing us their product is the best. Well-intentioned followers of Jesus, living in a world of competing religions, made similar claims- that Jesus was the best, and perhaps only way to experience God’s goodness.

We understand when an advertiser claims one product is better than others. It’s the game they play, to capture market share. That behaviour can be offensive when it comes to faith.

I believe the way to follow Jesus, is to offer people the same radical love and acceptance he offered. We might begin by acknowledging that all people are God’s people, and our human ideas about who is “in” and who is “out” cannot limit divine love. We should not “water down” the incredible gift of God’s love. We should share the “good stuff” and proclaim Jesus, who as we say in our United Church Song of Faith,

“ announced the coming of God’s reign—

a commonwealth not of domination

but of peace, justice, and reconciliation.

He healed the sick and fed the hungry.

He forgave sins and freed those held captive

by all manner of demonic powers.

He crossed barriers of race, class, culture, and gender.

He preached and practised unconditional love—

love of God, love of neighbour,

love of friend, love of enemy—

and he commanded his followers to love one another

as he had loved them.

The Advent Alphabet is a ministry offering from Rev. Darrow Woods, pastor at the United Church in Harrow, Ontario. Each day in Advent, a different letter of the English Alphabet will be a jumping off place for a reflection. These reflections will be sent out via email to those who have asked to be on the mailing list, and will also be posted to Rev. Darrow’s Facebook page.

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