A mystery to end all mysteries: the Incarnation of Christ.
Yesterday was the first Sunday of Advent, and rather than struggle with a blog idea for today, I’ve decided to post some thoughts on the season each Monday during Advent. For those who don’t know what Advent is, here’s a great article on the season and what it means to the Christian faith.
On a more personal note, I’ll say this: Advent is sort of my Lent (and if you don’t know what Lent is, here’s an article to explain). For me, the coming of Christ is a time for serious reflection on my own sinfulness that required His birth, the transcendent power of God in becoming human, and the miracle that is the gift of life. While others may be excited and cheerful during this time of year, I can’t help but be somber. Perhaps I’m just weird, but to me, the tragic destiny that awaited the innocent baby in the manger outweighs almost everything else. And for me, the power of the resurrection outstrips the melancholy of the cross, making the Lenten season a cause for celebration.
As I said, I guess I’m just weird.
But enough background. On to today’s Advent thought: the majesty of being human.
Lately, my daughter has been somewhat fascinated with the topic of flatulence (yes, a weird transition, but bear with me). For some reason, perhaps her age or family history, she finds gas endlessly hilarious. It’s gotten to the point that if she poots in public, she immediately announces the transgression by saying, “I pooted!” followed by a stifled giggle. If you have children of your own, you can imagine the embarrassment we have as parents, particularly since – as a minister – my child is often scrutinized a bit more thoroughly than her peers. Not that people are ever unfair to her – if anything, she actually gets a bit of a pass compared to some of the horror stories I’ve heard – but what she says and does tends to stand out because she’s my daughter.
So her choice of comedy becomes something beyond personal preference.
Thankfully, she’s had the good sense to not commit these indiscretions at church, but we’ve not been as fortunate at the park, or in her kindergarten class, or when dining at a restaurant. Mercifully, the only clue that anything has happened is her heralding it for all to hear; were there to be a preceding sound effect, the announcement would be that much more horrifying.
But as it is, I’m stuck with Gas Girl for now, and I have to say it’s gotten me thinking a lot about being human. I mean, honestly, without venturing into too gross a territory, can you think of a single thing that makes a person any more real, any more human, than pooting? I mean, everyone does it (despite some people’s best efforts at keeping that fact under wraps), so whether your a king or a member of the great unwashed, this is something we all have in common, something that goes beyond our contrived social conventions and structures and marks us all as the same.
Flatulence: the great equalizer.
It reminds us of what we are: made creatures, roaming around this rock we call home, each in need of nourishment that our body will process and use and discard as regularly as the sun rises and sets. No matter what station we may attain in life, no matter how noble our story might become, we all have the same bodily needs and functions and thus we are more alike than we imagine ourselves to be.
And it is that creatureliness, that horribly impolite side of our existence, that makes me marvel all the more at the Incarnation.
Now, if you’re a bit of a traditionalist you’ve probably stopped reading by now, but if you’re still with me, chances are you just pushed back in your chair and howled, “What does this have to do with one of the most sacred mysteries of the Christian faith?”
What do you think of when you think of God? Be honest. Most people, even people who profess no belief in God whatsoever, would use words like holy, transcendent, other, separate, non-human, ethereal, divine – the list of adjectives can march on and on. When we think of God, we’re almost conditioned to think of the splendor, the majesty of His very being, and part of that rests in the fact that God is absolutely not us. He doesn’t have the same character, the same essence, the same frailties. He is God, for goodness sakes.
And yet, if you’re a traditional Christian, this is the very time of year that you begin singing carols and sending cards and performing cantatas centered around the truth that this transcendent God, this holy and other being, entered into our historical story and became a baby boy born in a Bethlehem stable.
Guess what? Babies poot. And poop. And cry. And pee. With babies come boogers, burps, rashes, vomit, all part of a list that is too long to physically type – and these are things they do while still tiny and immobile. Once they start to move? Look out. And I’m not just talking about crawling or walking; as soon as babies have mastered the fine motor coordination required for digit manipulation, those digits find disgustingly horrific places to go, and the built-in human default for dirty fingers is apparently to lick them clean. I mean, every parent has endured the horror of turning just in time to see their infant’s fingers, covered in something, being plunged into their wide-open mouth. It’s the one time in real life that you can experience slow-motion.
I realize this is gross. It is. It’s disgusting. But it’s part of being human, and it’s something that we all too often scrub out of our theology to our detriment. Because when you cease to think about human beings in human terms you erase part of their beauty. And in the case of the Incarnation, you certainly take away some of its power and awesomeness because you minimize the difference between Eternal God and man. That would also be known as blasphemy.
We are not like God. He is not like us. And yet, in the person of Jesus Christ, the two met, each being fully revealed in Him without diminution. I mean, it’s not like everyone saw Jesus as God when He lived; point of fact is that only a few believed in the reality of His divinity. And it’s not like God saw Christ as only human after his death on the cross; after all, the bible says that not only was he resurrected, but Jesus sits at the right hand of God, given all authority and praise as head of all creation.
It is part of the mystery of faith that God would choose to come as one of us to save us from ourselves, a fact that we recognize with the season of Advent. It is a mystery deserving full thought and imagination, even when it brings us to places that are uncomfortable and seemingly base or banal. Because sometimes our only hope of really seeing God and His Son in their true magnificence is to see ourselves as we really are and to understand just how low He had to stoop to become one of us. I don’t expect people to write songs or paint pictures of this sort of thing, but we choose to ignore it at our own peril.
The Incarnation of the Eternal Word of God came with all the attendant problems of humanity. He got tired. He got hungry. He had gas. He had to use the bathroom. He lived a fully human life, not one that wimped out on the uncomfortable things. Christ never took the easy road.
And neither should we.
I hope that this season of Advent will be one of deep and creative meditation on the coming of Christ the King. And I hope that if it is, it will be one of the most powerful Christmases you’ve ever experienced.