Sunday, December 23, 2007

Christmas: On taking human form

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
But emptied himself,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness,
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death
even death on a cross
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above all names
That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow
in heaven and on earth and under the earth
And every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord
to the glory of God the Father.



God's opening salvo in our redemption was the biggest surprise of all: the Word of God, God's self-revelation, took human form.

I know the whole "Garden of Eden" thing is a source of argument among Christians, whether it should be understood as historically true or symbolically true. I hope you'll pardon me for not getting embroiled in that particular argument today, but just mentioning this: regardless of how you view the historical angle, there is still much common ground on the theological angle. What brought about the fall was grasping at equality with God. That was the core temptation in eating the forbidden fruit: not knowledge but status.

Paul's writing (some think he was quoting an early hymn) focuses exactly on this angle. We thought equality with God was something to be grasped even though we did not by nature have it; Christ by nature had it but did not claim it. We sought to exalt ourselves to gain our own status; Christ rejected his status in order to be with us. We let ourselves imagine that God exalted himself to keep himself above us. In our redemption, God showed us that the reality of the matter was the opposite: God humbled himself in order to reach us.

God is not too proud to be born into a poor family, not too proud to be put into a trough instead of a crib, not too proud to become human. Our original distrust of God is built on the fact that he is something we are not: that he is above us. The first action in redemption was to take away our cause for distrust: now God lays aside his glory and comes among us as one of us.

This turns our original temptation on its head. If we want to be like God, we reject status and exaltation; we choose humility and service. We accept being human. Christ, in taking our humanity upon himself, gave us back our own humanity as a gift.

16 comments:

Chris said...

Lovely post, as usual. However, after stating that you would not get into any argument about the historical nature of the Garden of Eden, I was sort of hoping that you would wade into those waters in regards to the Incarnation. It's just a little thing that I'm wrestling with right now, about which I've written over at my blog.

A blessed Christmas to you.

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi there

On the literal 6-dayness of creation: I do have my thoughts on that but I have a friend who disagrees with me strongly and has gotten a promise from me that I keep an open mind until I finish some recommended reading. Being bound by a promise in this case, I have to no-comment on that. My promise doesn't prevent me from mentioning this much: I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. (All Christians believe that much ... don't we?)

With regards to the incarnation, I believe that the Wisdom/Word of God pre-existed the universe and became flesh in Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah foretold by the prophets as the light of the Gentiles and the glory of Israel.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Enigman said...

I find it hard to see your logic: Consider a rich man and a poor man, who both wish to communicate. The rich man goes down to the poor man's level, in order to communicate. Should the poor man therefore throw away what little he has, to meet the rich man halfway? Still, I'm sure you're right; I'm just curious about your imagery... Merry Christmas.

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi enigman

Paul's point on us throwing down our own self-exalted status is that it's a false status. Once we've taken up humility, our self-exaltation is no longer in the way.

Merry Christmas!
Anne / WF

Enigman said...

Thanks... so is the image that we move halfway by throwing away our false self-importance as the fully divine God moved halfway by taking on the true humility of the fully human Jesus? Phew, theology is more complicated than philosophy! Martin

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Anne,

That's a VERY cool insight: that our original distrust arises from our different status.

Thanks!

Anastasia

Weekend Fisher said...

Anastasia: Thank you, and Merry Christmas.

Enigman: Mm, you do ask the loaded questions, don't you? You know if you asked that question of 6 different people, you'd get 8 different answers.

I think Paul's original point is that Christ moved the distance alienating us from God, and we are to likewise move the distance alienating us from others: the distance by which we put ourselves above them or even might be perceived as above them (whether by ourselves or by them). Paul was spearing our overly-inflated self-images along with our misguided images of what it is to be great. He showed something that Christ's birth highlighted: that our image of God as "above us" was coupled with a really skewed image of what it means to be greater, so that we in effect had viewed God not as "more than human" but as less than human in heart/spirit/compassion but more powerful.

(Yes, I am one of those people who are allergic to "half-way" language. As Hagrid would say, "Sorry 'bou' that!")

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Enigman said...

Thanks, I don't know where my "halfway" imagery came from (there's no halfway between finite and infinite, of course, or Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes) but it was in the way... Martin

Enigman said...

One thing I'm still curious about, was Jesus (ever so slightly) morally wrong to think that God had forsaken him at the end? I'm wondering if it's the thought that even God would succumb eventually (to our creaturely stresses) that enables us to believe that even God might forgive us our sins? (Or is it, as I suspect, unthinkable that Jesus sinned at all?)

Weekend Fisher said...

Oh now that's interesting. I've always thought that God actually did forsake Christ, & on that view it was Christ's willingness to join us in that godforsaken place, accursed and condemned ... and by doing that, take away the godforsakenness of it.

On your view God didn't forsake Christ?

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Enigman said...

Hmm... I've no idea; and I like your idea. But I was thinking of the footprints story; and also of Peter's doubts in Matt.14.xxx, and of how Jesus gave himself up to God immediately after his doubts (and such coincidences as Matt.14.xxxiii and Matt.27.liv, etc.)...

Enigman said...

...and of how God is (transcendently) omnipresent.

Weekend Fisher said...

So on that line of thought, does the "omnipresent" tie into whether Jesus is forsaken on the cross? I'm not 100% sure I'm following, but (just for the moment) I'll hope that I've understood.

I think on a human level you can forsake someone while being in the same room, standing right next to them ...

Enigman said...

Yeah but God is a bit bigger than us, so I'm thinking that S/he's omnipresent (not physically but) in the sense that S/he's interested in every aspect of the Creation that S/he's sustaining; that anyone actually forsaken by He/r would no longer exist (any idea on divine pronouns, incidentally)?

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi there

On pronouns, so long as you're respectful, use what makes you comfortable around here. The Bible uses mostly masculine imagery but occasionally uses feminine imagery, so you won't get any argument from me.

I'd agree that God is omnipresent, obviously. But on the "sustainer" argument -- I know this whole topic came up before and it took a lot of effort for me to let it pass then but it would've spoiled that conversation. I really don't buy the argument that anything God forsakes ceases to exist. (And there are people I respect who hold the opposite side of the argument.) But I think "creation" means that God gave us real existence, an existence which was a done deal at creation and does not require maintenance. It seems to me that going down that view of "sustainer" makes creation tentative rather than an accomplished reality. I mean, even the fig tree Jesus all-out cursed didn't pop out of existence, it just withered. (Our sanity, on the other hand, requires maintenance, but this is a separate topic and I'm half-playing when I mention it here since it's nearly off-topic. I mean that our sanity requires contact with God, with the reality of God and the goodness of God as the touchstones to sanity.)

<< S/he's interested in every aspect of the Creation that S/he's sustaining >>

Definitely with you there. I think we (humanity at large) tends towards backwards ideas of greatness, where someone truly great doesn't trifle with the small things. But God does "trifle" with the small things. Lately during Christmas I was considering the Magnificat, and one of Mary's chief praises comes across basically as "He remembered me."

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Enigman said...

Thanks... I'm undecided about the sustaining function myself, partly because it does seem that someone who could create free people could make them completely independent (although they might go mad).