God Made Flesh
Yesterday at church we had a service of lessons and carols. This is a service where different readers read select readings, beginning with the book of Genesis, showing the whole salvation history – the history of God’s saving love – that culminates in Christ. The final reading is read by the pastor, which in our case means read by me. I therefore had the privilege of reading the exquisite prologue to the Gospel of John:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What came into being in him was Life, and the Life was the Light of all people. The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it…
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory (literally, brilliant light), the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth…From his fullness we all have received, grace upon grace.” (John 1: 1-5; 14, 16)
The older I get the more the mystery and the miracle of the incarnation – the mystery and miracle of God made flesh – speaks to me.
For Christians the Incarnation speaks first and foremost of Christ: God made flesh in Christ. But part of the mystery and miracle of Christmas is that this Christ, this God-made-flesh, did not come in the kind of flesh people expected. God is always a God of surprises, as one of my close friends, who radiates God’s presence, always says to me. The world expected God made flesh in a powerful warrior King, who would achieve military and political power over the hated, oppressive Roman Emperor and his Empire. Instead God chose to be made flesh in our midst in a fragile, helpless infant, born to poor peasant parents.
One of the early Christian leaders, Iranaeus, said that in Christ “The Divine became human so that humanity could become part of the Divine.” In other words, “God-made-flesh” in Christ means that we need to look at all humanity in a new way, as incarnating, or embodying the Divine! God is made flesh still today in you and me, and everyone we encounter! God is made flesh then, at the time of Christ’s birth, as now, in the most surprising people; the fragile and powerless of today, the unexpected, surprising people we encounter.
Many Christians are horrified when they discover that we do not really know when Christ was born. We celebrate it on December 25 mostly because of the winter solstice, which is about the returning of Light. For Christians we celebrate Christ as the Light of the world, the Light which no darkness can overcome. For Christians on the twelfth day of Christmas, January 6, we celebrate the Feast of Epiphany, remembering the journey of the Magi, wise persons (Magi could be male or female), who travelled from afar, following the appearance of a star, and ancient prophecies, which were not even part of their own religious tradition, which signaled the birth of a a great new leader, the Messiah, or “anointed one.”
Today the word “Epiphany” has come into popular usage. People say, “I had an Epiphany,” when they have made a new realization, when something previously hidden in darkness has been brought into the light of their realization. Literally the word “epiphany” is from the Greek, and means a manifestation, a showing forth.
For Christians God is shown forth or made manifest in Christ. In the early church Epiphany celebrated three things: Christ’s birth, the acknowledgment of Christ by the Magi, and Christ’s baptism, all of these signifying God made manifest. As time went on the Christian church designated “God-made-flesh” also in the sacraments.
God is literally incarnate, or made tangible or concrete for us in something as simple as water, as bread, and as a cup of wine or juice.
Christians also designate the community, the Christian Church, as “the body of Christ.” In other words, God is made flesh for us in one another.
The older I get the more I see how all things are connected. I see how all faith traditions say essentially the same thing: That God is made flesh in everyone we encounter, so we are to treat everyone with the reverence with which we treat God. As a yoga practitioner and instructor, this is what we emphasize at the conclusion of every yoga practice, when we say, “Namaste.” “Namaste” literally means, “May the holy one in me acknowledge the holy one in you.”
In this season of Christmas and of Epiphany,
in this season of returning Light,
in this season when we welcome a New Year,
May we welcome a new way of seeing all that is.
May we see the Christ, the Holy One, the Divine,
in all we encounter,
and may we reflect the Christ, the Holy One, the Divine
to all we encounter.
Linda Forsberg, Copyright December 29, 2014
Photos: Sylvie’s feet, photo of Tim Alperen; second beach, Newport, RI; baby Lola with Grampa Ted’s hand; Ursula and Tony; Victoria exiting the Cloisters, NYC; Sylvie getting a bath in our kitchen sink; Church Beyond Walls, Providence, RI; a family meal with John, Nicolette, Karen, Jules, Vic, and Linda, noodle place in NYC; Charlene at yoga, Namaste!