September 30, 2010


Holy Incarnation!: It may be impossible not to "demean God" since he mixed it up with sinners. (Mark Galli, 9/30/2010, Christianity Today)

Why does it bother us to imagine Jesus throwing a few dishes in the kitchen when he overturned tables in the temple? Still, many people have a fixed image of God as high and lifted up, holy and magisterial, and they naturally don't want their image tarnished.

But is it possible to tarnish the image of God any more than he has already tarnished it? To put it another way, if we're anxious to protect the reputation of the holy, infinite, immutable, and all powerful YHWH, we probably should stop talking about the Incarnation.

The Incarnation means that the transcendent God took on mutable flesh; pure Spirit assumed a decaying body; holy divinity trafficked with sinful humanity.

Let's get specific, lest we forget what was really entailed in this ugly business. God was initially wrapped not in swaddling clothes but in birth matter. He had blood coursing through his veins, fecal matter through his intestines, and urine through his urinary tract. God chewed and swallowed food, and sometimes vomited from drinking bad water or eating contaminated food. God sweated; he had body odor. He had dirt caked around his toes and ankles, splinters under his skin, and scabs from cutting himself in the carpentry shop. His hair was probably greasy and matted. He had pimples in his youth. He had wax in his ears. He had sexual thoughts, albeit without lusting. He had a penis and hair in his armpits. His frail human body gave out on him every night. At that point in the day, he had to put acts of love on hold; he was just too tired to keep going.

Ah, yes: He also died. His heart stopped beating. His brain waves ceased to function. His body started to decompose—and smell.

So shocking is this reality that we're quick to clothe it with respectability. We wrap the baby Jesus in a clean blanket and stick him in a bed of fresh straw. Or we paint him as a well-manicured, metrosexual Middle Easterner knocking on a charming 19th-century cottage door.

Early on, though, many people saw the Incarnation (and all it entailed, especially the crucifixion) as foolishness. Or a scandal. Or blasphemy. Some early Christians, called "docetists," couldn't swallow it, and posited a Jesus who only seemed human. Gnostics like Valentinus taught that "Christ" came upon "Jesus" only at his baptism, and then departed from "Jesus" before the crucifixion—can't have "Christ" trafficking in birth matter and blood.

The nervousness about Jesus' humanity is not new, then, but it's hard to understand why we have become more scandalized by Jesus wearing sunglasses or throwing dishes than by God living in and as a human body. And yet: Hasn't the transcendent and holy God "demeaned" himself in taking on human flesh and consorting with sinners? In our wildest imagination, what greater insult to pure divinity could we fabricate?

...even the Big Fella blasphemed Himself on the Cross.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 30, 2010 7:37 PM
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