Christmas and the Heart of God

Merry Christmas!

Today I a ponder the Incarnation I wonder what it was all about. Why did God take on human form?

We usually think the Incarnation was for our benefit. But I am very sympathetic to the notion that God needed the Incarnation, that prior to the Incarnation there was an empathic disjoint between God and humanity. I resonate with the idea that God, to be a good God, needed to walk in our shoes for a season. To experience pain, loss, hunger, fear, emotional desolation, torture and, finally, death itself.

I think there is biblical warrant for this view. Consider these two passages from the book of Hebrews:

But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers...Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham's descendants. For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who
are being tempted.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
It seems clear to me in these passages that Jesus (and, thus, God himself) learned something during the Incarnation. Specifically, God learns empathy. The Incarnation allows a facet of God--The Son--to function as a more perfect--more empathic and compassionate--High Priest.

So I'm thankful today for the baby Jesus. Thankful for what that gift did to the hearts of humanity. And also thankful for what that gift did to the heart of God.

This entry was posted by Richard Beck. Bookmark the permalink.

5 thoughts on “Christmas and the Heart of God”

  1. It occurred to me at our midnight Mass last night that the story is too bold to have been invented. It certainly could not have been invented by any populist atheist of today from Russell to Hitchens. They would not have or have had the gall to make any such assumption about the unassuming God who assumes our humanity. Even the gnostics according to Deconnick's article in BAR, realized that a God who stoops to create - even once, let alone twice to create and redeem - is a god that is lesser than the Ultimate Abstraction - who is so far beyond as to be unimaginable by us. So Incarnation is too bold for modern atheists and too small for gnostics. What sort of person would dare not one but dozens of different portraits of something this good!

  2. Hm. Interesting point. Of course, gods have become men, and men gods, for a very long time--long before the baby Jesus. Buddha is, explicitly, a man who became a god and returned to be a man again *in order to* relieve suffering. As for the story being "too bold to have been invented" by a "populist atheist" I'm not sure what that even means. Bold stories about gods are invented all the time--take a hard look at the Mormons and their specific beliefs as articulated by Joseph Smith. Doesn't get much more bold than his "dictations" including the one about extra wives. If mere boldness were a proof of truth we'd all still be sacrificing red haired virgins in bogs.

    But as for incarnation in the body of a suffering man, well, I think its a very beautiful point that makes sense in terms of the christian appropriation of the Jew's god. Christianity has always overvalued or overemphasized the brutal, distant, unloving side of the god (the father) and put all the good stuff on their intercessory god (the son).

    I don't think its as novel as all that in world history, or religious history, but its beautiful, nonetheless. As a woman I would lean more towards "marian idolatry" because I think its the missing part of the trinity as imagined by most protestant sects--that Jesus had a mother, was nurtured by a mother, died with a mother present. Interestingly enough its also the part of suffering with and feeling with humanity that is absolutely the forbidden thought experiment in Christianity although it was the text and subtext of most pre-Christian or non christian religions: love and sexual relations between gods and mortals. The greek myths are full of just this, aren't they? Gods who love mortals, the duties they owe to their children, the relations of gods and men made flesh? In the Jesus story god doesn't "have sex" with mary, or even love her in any way we can recognize and humanize. She's used as a vessel. Her love for her son is real, and empathetic, and human. And his love for her is occasionally part of the side story. But Jesus does not include in his human mission/humanizing mission the love of women as women--though he clearly has very warm friendship relations with women.

    I think that's a terrible loss for the religion as well as for our imaginings of the divine. But its as implicit in the incarnation as the notion that god must stoop to share our suffering and even our deaths to truly understand his own power, grace, and duty towards his suffering creation.


  3. Aimai: my comment is inadequate, bold is inadequate. Perhaps it is only my inarticulated thought that was too bold to have been invented by someone else. I don't think there are any forbidden thought experiments in Christ - but they may be unspeakable. Is Mary only used as a vessel? Am I, as male, only a vessel? My wife only a tool for feeding others, I only a tool for making money. Are there no feet to sit at? Is there no well form which water is drawn? Are even the feet that bear good tidings just another means to an end?

    In the resurrection, they neither marry nor are given in marriage - why? Not because the love of women as women is missing. Being male, I am in no position to judge this, but I know the love of male as male is not missing. If such love, male or female, were to have been missing, I doubt that Mary would have said yes. Our problem is that we cannot make one out of two.

  4. Bob,
    It was rude of me to take you up so sharply on your musings. Please forgive me. And of course there are many ways to look at the annunciation and I didn't mean to imply that Mary is *only* seen as a vessel--although most early western ethnoscience of the body thinks of women as primarily vessels or fields for the "real" seed that is planted.
    In the [modern] Jewish tradition sex between married couples is seen as a mitzvah, and more than that--pleasure and sexual pleasure are seen as part of worshipping god and fulfilling his desire for married couples. So I find the notion that in heaven there will be neither marriage nor giving in marriage, neither sex nor passion kind of sad. I know where that comes from in the Christian bible and in Christian attitudes towards sex and towards the divisive quality of marriage and family life--a challenge to the corporate agape?--but I don't think its the only way we can conceive of the birth of Jesus or Jesus's relationship to his mother or other women.


  5. Wow - aimai thank you for your understanding.

    That they 'neither marry nor are given in marriage' does not by any means exclude pleasure of any sort. It is not sad. But to be 'as the angels' is not to be as those who are depicted in Genesis 6, for example. There can be no 'me first' except that there is a First Born. 'God is love' is the centre, so the image of love between one person and another is no longer required since all images have become reality. The reality of this consummation is experienced here in Christ through the Spirit - not without cost, since 'me first' must be consecrated through the circumcision of the cross. The image of water from the well is also of such joy - e.g. see John chapter 4 which picks up the 'well' stories from Tanakh.

Leave a Reply