The Complex Christ – chapter 2: Incarnation


“Having waited, waited, waited for so long, the anticipation building,
the hype and rumour and false Messiahs, and all the while things
getting worse with occupations and punitive taxations and military
machinations…. Into all this chaos Christ slipped virtually unnoticed.
How else did we expect God to enter the world?” p. 41-42

In his book God: A Biography, Jack Miles portrays the God of the OT as
an adolescent, unsure of his place or how best to wield his powers, a
divinity growing up as the testament unfolded. It is as if God was
actually going through Fowler’s stages (see intro). Of course one could
equally argue that it is simply OUR understanding of God that has
matured, and that as generations have spent more time immersed in this
relationship, we have begun to see God in more subtle ways than simple
creation and destruction, fertility and barrenness. P. 42

Perhaps this explains how the OT can show us a God of inclusion,
grace, compassion and mercy alongside a God who appears to desire lands
plundered, cities pillaged and peoples slaughtered: it is a story of
our getting to know God and our maturing spirituality, rather than of
God getting to know us and God growing up. So our Bible has our
failings and bright perceptions recorded side by side… p. 42

Looking at it from this viewpoint, one can imagine God’s frustration in trying to communicate with the people of the OT. Having to channel messages through the ranks of priests and scribes and judges… with layer upon layer of interpretation and translation and subtle personal agenda being carefully added until the original truth was almost completely occluded from the people it was meant for. P. 42

We see Christ venting his Father’s irritation at this ciphering of meaning when he chastises the religious leaders of the day in Matt. 23 for being ‘blind guides’. He went on to lament the way they killed all the prophets sent to them…and then told those gathered in the temple “the parable of the tenants’: when the landowner had sent his servants and they had been beaten, killed and stoned, he had to resort to sending them his son in the hope that they would listen to him. P. 43

God understood that the only way to communicate his character truthfully and without distortion was to bypass the intermediaries…and to speak to us himself.  The experiment involving trickle-down truth had been shown to be totally ineffective, with those higher up the pyramid co-opting and distorting for their own selfish gain, leaving God caricatured as an angry, malevolent revolutionary who demanded regular sacrifice to appease his wrath; a God with a nationalistic interest who would support the Jewish people come what may. God had to put this right. P. 43

And so as we turn from Malachi to Matthew, those 400 quiet years reduced to a single turn of the page. We waited and grieved, our OT closed and finished in a metaphorical death and silence. It was a cooling-off period if you will; a chance for us to reflect and break clean from the old, so that when Christ came we were able to see this reborn God afresh from a new angle – a God of compassion and wisdom and grace and non-violent force and loving holiness…Not that God had not been these things before, but in our angst-ridden immaturity and tribal insecurity we had distorted them from our little peaks, projecting them imperfectly onto warped screens, and co-opting their distorted images of a revolutionary god for our own uses. P. 43-44

We still do. We dress Christ as Che Guevara and take up our swords to do battle against Darwins and Galileos, and in doing so put on again the old masks of an embattled, violent and intolerant God. P. 44

God saw that the only way out of this OT misconception and misrepresentation was to forget the trickle-down, top-down system of communication and to disappear for a while. God could not immediately begin something new, but had to wait, be silent and metaphorically die before re-emerging. Rather than shout down to us from the top of Everest, God would climb down into the valleys below and join us, a reborn god now inside the system – an ‘incarnate’ being in the same body as us, one of us and therefore able to speak to us unmediated in our own language and idiom. P. 44

Totally within character, God saw what needed to be done, took the plunge and became nothing. He stripped away all power, might, knowledge, glory, met physicality…all that could obviously signify divinity was ripped out, all preconceived ideas of God-ness were discarded and torn from him. His self was refined and reduced down and down to pure essence, to the smallest possible format with no more than the most fundamental resources, to the very basics of unadorned life:  a single sperm with only enough strength to breach the walls of an ovum. P. 44-45

Having waited, waited, waited for so long of God to come to us, what did we expect? A marching army? A blinding flash of divine lightening…? Think again, God says. Think again. Free your minds from the old. Empty them. “I am doing a new thing. Do you not perceive it?” P. 45

The God who created evolution and dreamt up emergence knew the only door into this world was through birth to a woman. God knew that the only way to overcome the crisis of representation and communication was to give up on the top-down approach that demanded change by revolution, and be reborn, to re-emerge and change things by evolution from the bottom up. P. 45

The church now seems to stand in the same place as God stood in some 2,500 years ago: misrepresented, accused of bigotry, portrayed as narrow-minded and in love with power, only interested in buildings, ready to smite the dirty and sinful, over-occupied with sex, and ready to lend support for unjust wars…And so we must do as God did, as Christ commanded and exemplified: we must be born again. Become nothing, removed of strength and power and voice and means and language… P. 45-46

We must re-emerge and grow up again in the place we are meant to serve. Understand it, learn from it, be in it, love it, listen to it, wait 30 years before speaking to it. We must, like God, discard any thoughts that revolution is going to effect change in the Church or our world, and become dedicated to change by evolution. P. 46

As we wonder how the Church could change, I have suggested that we must begin by waiting (see chap. 1 Advent). Second, I am going to suggest that, like God, we must be born again. That we must re-emerge. That there will be no revolution, only evolution. That what will be in the future body of Christ must be what Christ was: the embryonic co-operation of divinity and humanity. P. 47

This is the mystery of the incarnation:  that Christ was both fully God and fully human, and his very birth sums up what we must do. He came into this world invisible to the human eye, beneath the radar of the authorities, undetected by those blinded by power. And now we, like Mary, need to become wombs of the divine, allowing God to fertilize our creativity and give birth to newness. But even in that birthing we must be aware of our expectations. The newness that will be born will be incomplete and immature. It will be newness not fully formed and unable to speak. It will be newness defenceless and unable to justify itself to its seniors. It will be newness that is born into a culture and therefore totally and naturally immersed in the codes, the language, the history and life of that which it comes to serve. P. 48

We must stop and wait, and allow newness to emerge among us. And when it does we must treat it just as Mary did Christ, just as we would any other newborn. We must nurture it gently and feed it carefully. We must not demand it act like an adult, but allow it to be a child. We must understand again that new growth will take a long time, and will require a lot of long-term support. There are no speedy revolutions in the process of gestation and development; only slow, sure, stable growth. P. 48

In order to reach humanity God had to re-emerge and be reborn into human form. In the same way, we need to re-emerge and be reborn into specific places and cultures in order to be truly incarnate to them and reach them. God came all the way to us – yet we now expect people to come so far towards us in the church. Far away from their music, far away from their vernacular, far away from their visual language, their codes and symbols. God was born again – became nothing and re-emerged – in order to reach us in our own language, to live and grow up among us. As the body of Christ, we must do likewise and, just as for Christ, it will take immense courage. P. 48

The quiet force of God’s evolution will not be detected by those looking for revival or those demanding reformation, for the embryonic is only detectable by ultra-sound, beyond the range of normal hearing. But out on cold hillsides and in far-off cities there are labourers and stargazers who have the courage to imagine that newness is not only possible, but inevitable. It is seen most clearly by those with no power to lose, and its direction is revealed to those prepared to search the heavens and remain unimpressed with the powerful. P. 49