by James Furr, President of HGST
The popularity of Eugene Peterson’s translation of John 1:14 in The Message seems to increase every Christmas season—“The Word become flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” What a simple and profound statement of the mysterious reality of the Incarnation. Jesus—fully human, fully divine; the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe in our midst every day.
Such a mind-stretching truth is challenging enough but our affirmation is even more difficult in an age and culture known for its skepticism and isolation. Common perceptions about God are graphically outlined in an excellent book by Baylor University professors Paul Froese and Christopher Bader. Exhaustive research for America’s Four Gods—What We Say About God and What That Says About Us explored whether respondents thought of God as engaged or disengaged with the world and whether God was viewed as judgmental or nonjudgmental. They assigned names to the four possible combinations and indicate the percentages for each: 31% believe in an Authoritative God (engaged and judgmental); 24% believe in a Benevolent God (engaged and nonjudgmental); 16% believe in a Critical God (judgmental and disengaged); 24% believe in a Distant God (nonjudgmental and disengaged.) The other 5% identified as atheistic.
How can we truly affirm the Incarnation when 40% of us perceive God to be disengaged from the world? How can the 31% who see God as engaged truly celebrate the Incarnation if God is primarily viewed as judgmental? With those convictions, how do we genuinely sing Christmas songs of peace, hope, and love?
Some of us are drawn to convince ourselves and others through logical persuasion. While reason and advocacy have a place at the table of discourse, I’m reminded of a compelling alternative described by Dr. Michael Gorman. In Becoming the Gospel: Paul, Participation, and Mission, he invites us to embrace the experience of theosis, of “becoming like God by participating in the life of God” (261). As we join God’s reconciling activity in our lives, faith communities, and the world, we bear witness to and become Good News. Despair, isolation, and resentment can be transformed into hope, community, and love.
Ultimately, the overwhelming veracity of the Incarnation becomes the simple journey toward Christlikeness as we embrace God’s transforming power in us, through us, and around us. Through those lens, we see the Incarnation when the hungry are fed, the naked are clothed, the homeless are sheltered, and we sign as a hymn of confession and blessing Joy to the World, The Lord is Come!