Epiphany Meditation: The Word Became Flesh – Pt. 3 [07JAN2011]
Yesterday many members of the Church celebrated Epiphany, the day celebrated and recognized as the appearance or manifestation of God the Son as a human being in Jesus. This is an incredible thing, this revelation…epiphany, and God’s manifest grace permitting mankind to recognize the person of the Word who became flesh. This seems the perfect place to pick back up our meditation on the Word Became Flesh. I wish to focus in this installment on what it means for the Word to dwell among us and in us…
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14-18)
As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him (Matthew 9:9). Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him (Matthew 4:22). My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me (John 10:27).
What does it mean to be “called” by God? I think the question is relevant because ultimately each of us is called by God. We are called to be, first, reconciled to Him. Secondly, we are called to be people of blessing, people that bring holistic (“whole-istic”) healing, and we are called to be administers of grace. All of this is for the sake of God’s image which we are created in. Now, some of this or even most of this would be agreed upon by many people professing Christian beliefs. In fact, if you are a fly on a wall in the church social areas on any given Sunday, you’ll hear this type of inspiration and encouragement shared in conversation between “believers” egging one another on in the perseverance of their faith. This is good; except… in the Christian communities that I have traveled and belonged to, this is predominantly where this encouragement begins and ends… with talk. These are the “right” words to share with our Christian brothers and sisters, but we don’t really mean them.
“The Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, who did, through his transcendent love, become what we are, that he might bring us to be even what he is himself” (Ireneaus)
“For He was made man that we might be made God” (Athanasius)
Why do we do this? Why do we speak words we really don’t mean? I think I have a pretty good theory on the answer to that question. My theory is that we want to believe them; that’s why we say them. The tragedy is that as a general group of people we don’t believe they are possible. We stumble through our lives of faith hoping for something we don’t believe is attainable. A very large percentage of people instead believe the lie that we cannot be like Jesus. The reality is that the thing we so desperately hope for, being like Jesus, is attainable and in this physical life. This is what the Word became Flesh is ultimately all about, the man and woman created in the image of God becoming again whole and healed, reconciled and restored to the glorious image of God who is visible in the person and image of Christ.
What is our stumbling block?
As I said, I think the primary stumbling block to our flesh becoming the Word is our belief that such a transformation is unattainable in our physical lives. I think this belief is faulty and stems from two wellsprings; one is ego, selfishness, and the desire to become the designer of our own destiny. Second, is our faulty (even heretical) theology; we attribute an errant sense of divinity to the flesh and blood Jesus and elevate his life to something unattainable by mere mortals (us). This perspective of Jesus is a form of Gnosticism and Docetism… (note: not exactly like either, but a form of both). Update: (Jan. 08, 2011 — While reading some of my favorite blogs this morning, I stumbled on a pretty good explanation of Gnosticism and Docetism from the Resurgence site. You might also find some of the other false beliefs informative from their series here.)
The incarnation is one of the great mysteries of God, seemingly full of paradox with the idea of Jesus as fully man and fully God. The concept certainly does not seem congruous, but that is one of the great doctrines of the church. It is difficult for us to comprehend a God with our frailties and afflictions; I’ve heard people preach that Jesus never was sick a day in his life. I don’t think Scripture speaks to this aspect of Jesus’ health one way or the other, but we know he hungered, got tired, was angered, exasperated, grieved, saddened, bruised, bled, and died. I can’t imagine that he suffered these other physical attributes yet he was never sick, but I digress. It is also difficult for us to imagine a human being, born of a woman, who is also the Uncreated and Immortal God. Yet, Scripture and Jesus testify to this being true in the person of Christ. Consequently, as “believers,” we struggle with these dynamics in the outliving of our own faith.
So, what’s the problem again?
The problem with this confusion about Jesus is the way that it impacts how we live our physical lives. Most people who are “believers” will concede that Jesus lived a “perfect” and “sinless” life. Although the majority of those people do not believe they have the ability or empowerment to “follow” after Jesus in this same capacity, but Scripture teaches otherwise.
“I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father.” (John 14:12)
“Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.” (1 John 2:6)
I could continue to cite supporting passages from the Epistles of St. Paul, but I’ll leave those to your own reading. The point here is that we are intended to live a life as Jesus lived while he walked the earth. His nature as God and Man are real, but he “emptied himself” (Philippians 2:5-7) and became as us, so he could be the perfect sacrifice for our sin. In emptying himself, he showed us the way to walk, led by the Spirit of God, in unbroken fellowship with the Godhead (God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit), so that we too can walk as glorious reflections of God. The prayer of Jesus in John chapter seventeen speaks to this very idea. The following passage speaks to this unbroken unity:
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” –Jesus (John 17:20-26)
What do you believe about this Epiphany? How does the Word became Flesh impact your flesh becoming his Word? Stay tuned; more to come…