Christmas is the season to reflect on the incarnation, to affirm that the Word become flesh and made its home among us.
I’ve been doing that for decades now. Am I beginning to get it?
I wonder. Recently, I’ve been reading Richard Beck’s website (Experimental Theology), especially his reviews of William Stringfellow’s books. “Incarnation” was a key emphasis in Stringfellow’s work, according to Beck. It describes “the fusion of the human and the divine, the mixing of heaven and earth, the participation of God in the day-to-day affairs of life.” It commissions us to be “full participants in the affairs of the world.”
Is that really what the incarnation means? Raised as I was in Mennonite, two-kingdom theology, this explanation of the incarnation unnerves me. Aren’t some qualifications in order? I mean, shouldn’t we put some real distance between the divine and the secular?
Stringfellow didn’t. He wrote:
“A Christian is not distinguished by his political views, or moral decisions, or habitual conduct, or personal piety, or, least of all, by his churchly activities. A Christian is distinguished by his radical esteem for the Incarnation – to use the traditional jargon – by his reverence for the life of God in the whole of Creation, even and, in a sense, especially, Creation in the travail of sin.”
“Intimacy with the world” is another phrase Stringfellow used to describe what he had in mind. It is the “awful innocence” that often makes Christians “look like suckers” because for them,
“there is no forbidden work. There is no corner of human existence, however degraded or neglected, into which they may not venture; no person, however beleaguered or possessed, whom they may not befriend and represent; no cause, however vain or stupid, in which they may not witness; no risk, however costly or imprudent, which they may not undertake.”
Reading Stringfellow, I begin to glimpse a God whose commitment to the world is without reservation. Not just for a season, not just for a task, not just for a shining moment; God is all-in for the duration. As in, “This is it; this is my home.”
Well, as a person of faith, I have been looking forward to a better home than this one. I thought that is what people of faith were supposed to do.
Could it be God came to earth for more than a visit? Could earth really be God’s permanent home? Could it be the peace embodied by Jesus – the kind that confronts and absorbs the travail of sin — already resides in this valley of tears?