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Thoughts about Incarnation

Posted on 30 December 2013, 18:44

At Christmas, Christians focus on in the incarnation of God in Jesus. “Peace on Earth and good will to men.” A celebration at the heart of Christianity. But this should not obscure the fact that God is in all that is.

I think my favourite hymn is one written by George Herbert who died in 1633: “ Teach me, my God and King,  In all things thee to see, And what I do in anything, To do it as for thee:

  A man that looks on glasse,
      On it may stay his eye;
Or if he pleaseth, through it passe,
      And then the heav’n espie.

George Herbert (3 April 1593 – 1 March 1633) was a Welsh-born English poet, orator and Anglican priest. Herbert’s poetry is associated with the writings of the metaphysical poets, and he is recognized as “a pivotal figure: enormously popular, deeply and broadly influential, and arguably the most skillful and important British devotional lyricist.” (Wikipedia)

George Herbert’s words quoted above, remind us what all religions are about, and that is, about the eternal world of spirit, that we are all spiritual beings with one foot so to speak in the physical world and the other in the spiritual realm. With the death of our bodies we return to the world of Spirit. He reminds us that God is in all through all and above all.

Herbert can help us evaluate beliefs that puzzle some people: For much more than 2000 years the Jews, and later the Christians, have been looking for a big event called the second coming, where a saviour figure will appear in the Clouds who will right all wrongs, punish the wicked, and take the righteous to heaven. For 2000 years and more people have been fixing dates in various near futures when all this will happen. But puzzling beliefs like this distract us from finding the God who is already in all, through all, and above all, they distract us from acknowledging that we are already in God’s kingdom, the kingdom of heaven, they distract us from taking seriously the teachings of Jesus about this kingdom. They distract us from the need to love God and neighbour, and to refrain from judging whether our neighbour is acceptable to God or not. As the song we sing in church says, the distance between heaven and earth is paper-thin. 

Churches have split over the question whether the communion bread is the physical body of Jesus or whether it is a symbol. Another terrible distraction. There is nowhere that we cannot find the spirit of God. 

A man that looks on glasse,
      On it may stay his eye;
Or if he pleaseth, through it passe,
      And then the heav’n espie.

(You are reading in part,  the script of a sermon just preached, hence my references to the following scriptural passages.)

What are we to make of those lovely words we heard read this morning from a prophet Isaiah?

“Say to those with fearful hearts,
  “Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
  he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
  he will come to save you.
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
  and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
  and the mute tongue shout for joy.”

What was Isaiah meaning when he wrote those words? Did he have in mind a Jesus who was to be born 500 years in the future? Or did he anticipate that these healings were shortly physically going to happen in his own time? Or was Isaiah simply deeply aware of the world of spirit, and the spiritual healing that can occur when we feel in the presence of God?

What about words in the psalm we have just heard?
“The Lord sets prisoners free,  the Lord gives sight to the blind,
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,  the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the foreigner   and sustains the fatherless and the widow”?

What was in the mind of the psalmist?

We are celebrating the birth of Jesus. We are thinking of how God became manifest in a human being, whom we call our Saviour. One of the ways Jesus is our Saviour, is that he gives an example of someone who places no mental or emotional barriers to awareness and union with spirit. He shows us what it truly means to be God and human.  In reality God is not only in Jesus, but in all through all and above all.  God is at the core of the being of each of us, but so often we are not aware of this, not able properly to respond to this, and we often lose our way, miss the mark in what we are doing.

Many readers will be aware of Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection (c. 1614 – 12 February 1691) who served as a lay brother in a Carmelite monastery in Paris.
Lawrence writes, “Men invent means and methods of coming at God’s love, they learn rules and set up devices to remind them of that love, and it seems like a world of trouble to bring oneself into the consciousness of God’s presence. Yet it might be so simple. Is it not quicker and easier just to do our common business wholly for the love of him?” Some believe Brother Lawrence meditated on the love of God so much, it made him “levitate.” 

For Brother Lawrence, “common business,” no matter how mundane or routine, could be a medium of God’s love. The sacredness or worldly status of a task mattered less than motivation behind it. “Nor is it needful that we should have great things to do. . . We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before him, who has given me grace to work; afterwards I rise happier than a king. It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God.”

Brother Lawrence felt having a proper heart about tasks made every detail of his life possess surpassing value. “I began to live as if there were no one save God and me in the world.” Brother Lawrence felt that he cooked meals, ran errands, scrubbed pots, and endured the scorn of the world alongside God. One of his most famous sayings refers to his kitchen:

“The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees before the Blessed Sacrament.” (Quoted from Wikipedia article)

Wishing a Blessed Christmas to all.


Comments

A helpful and supportive letter. Thank you.

Keith Ellwood, Tue 7 Jan, 00:01

One of the profound truths of the Incarnation for me is that in the birth of Jesus as for us all the love and grace of God is present in all its totality from our beginning and while awareness of this truth may dawn gradually and for some it never ceases to be an unfolding wonder there are others who do not discover it and yet more who deny it. Our attitudes toward the unconditional love of God for us do not diminish its reality - only for some its perception. To know we are totally, unconditionally and eternally loved has to be the greatest knowledge we can receive on earth surely. And while we struggle with many issues isn’t it a comfort to see the extraordinary faith God has in us perhaps most obviously in the entrustment of Jesus to Joseph and Mary a very ordinary if deeply spiritual couple from a small town in a troublesome province of a brutal empire
John Marcon

John Marcon, Mon 30 Dec, 23:59


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