Incarnation – the Reason for the Season

Incarnation – the Reason for the Season

January 4, 2015
Stina Pope


The prophet Zechariah reminds us (Zech 4:10), we should not “despise the day of small things,” because God does some of his best work with small beginnings and impossible situations. There are a lot of people we consider “heroes” in the Bible, but when we go back and really look at these folks, we can see how really frail and imperfect all the “heroes” actually are. There is Abraham, the coward who cannot believe the promise; Jacob, the cheat who struggles with everybody; Joseph, the immature and arrogant teen; Moses, the impatient murderer who cannot wait for God; Gideon, the cowardly Baal-worshipper; Samson, the womanizing drunk; David, the power abusing adulterer; Solomon, the unwise wise man; Hezekiah, the reforming king who could not quite go far enough. And finally, there is a very young Jewish girl and her fiancé from a small conquered village in a remote corner of a great empire.

God often begins with small things and inadequate people. God could have chosen “bigger” things and “better” people to do God’s work in the world. Yet it is clear that if God can use them, and reveal Godself through them in such marvelous ways, it also means that God might be able to use me, inadequate, and unwise, and too often lacking in faith that I am. And it means that I need to be careful that I do not in my own self-righteousness put limits on what God can do with the smallest things, the most unlikely of people, in the most hopeless of circumstances. I think that is part of the wonder of this season.

But this season is not all sweetness and light, from several directions. We have the issue of a hyper-materialistic society where some people are out buying enormous numbers of things that are totally unnecessary, while others debate what to do because there is not enough money for both food and heat. There are entire families living out on the street in this cold. When we turn on the news, we hear of yet another bombing, another shooting, more children being orphaned or killed outright. And the Bible readings at this time of year, we have the stoning of Stephen, the slaughter of the innocents and now we have Mary and Joseph fleeing to Egypt with a small child because there are those who want to kill the child, not unlike the people fleeing from the Honduran street gangs. If you look at the geography, and imagine two young people and a small child, it is not so different. Poor people, fleeing political ramifications that they had no part in, walking through a desert that looks very much like our Mojave – for what? Not for vacation, that’s for sure! Just a chance to live, just a chance for their child to live. They chose to be homeless rather than to be slaughtered by a frightened and crazy tyrant.

One of the more interesting Nativity scenes this year was out in front of a Methodist Church. It showed Mary as a homeless woman. It bothered a lot of people, apparently. It reminded me of a very pregnant woman who parked her van in the Episcopal church parking lot in Los Gatos, and the people there realized that they just could not tell her to go away. Instead, they supported her through the birth, helped her find services, and finally she moved on.

Sometimes I am a little envious of our brothers and sisters in the Orthodox tradition, because they use the old calendar for their church celebrations. For them, Christmas comes on January 7. You’ve all seen the call to remember “the reason for the season.” But the real reason for the season is not the birth of Jesus, but rather the incarnation of God. In terms of our faith, Christmas is not really important, but the season of Epiphany, which we officially enter into on Jan 6, is terribly important! On one level, in the same way that we have Ash Wednesday and Lent to prepare for Easter, Advent/Christmas is the entrance rite, the announcement as it were, of Epiphany, when we celebrate the coming of light into the darkness. Each Sunday of the season of Epiphany, we have another announcement of how God’s light comes into the world, overcoming the darkness. The symbol for Epiphany is the star, and in many traditions, people hang a big star in their churches and homes, to remind us about God’s light.

I am convinced that one of the main purposes of the incarnation of God in Jesus was to provide hope. While most people today want to talk about the death of Jesus and the Atonement of sins, the early Church celebrated the Resurrection and the hope it embodied. It was a proclamation of a truth that rang throughout the Old Testament, that what we see as endings are not always endings but are opportunities for God to bring new beginnings. The Resurrection proclaimed that truth even about humanity’s greatest fear, death itself.

In our funeral service, in the middle of us clearly acknowledging death, we say these important words: “All we go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.” How can we possibly sing Alleluia standing at the edge of the grave? Facing death in the face, how can we sing Alleluia? It is because Jesus came as the incarnation of God, in person, and showed us, in his person, that death is not the final answer. Life is the final answer.

This dark time of the year is also the time when we enter into what the Celts called the “thin space,” that time when that thick wall between what we know as our world and the world beyond, that wall becomes thinner. It starts with All Hallow’s Eve, which we call Halloween, and we acknowledge that it is a time when the ghosties and ghoulies come out. If we can get past both the great fear that it might be true, and our silliness which is simply a response to that fear that the wall might just be a door, then we can see the “dark time” as an opening for kairos time in our chronos mentality. Kairos and chronos are two Greek words for time. Chronos is the base for our word, chronology, and it means clock time. Kairos is the time of God, which cannot be measured as we know how to measure time. It is time, but a very different sense of it. It is the kind of time we enter into when we celebrate Eucharist, and we have the sense that we are joining the saints and angels in their celebration banquet. That is another concept that the Orthodox are much clearer about, that when we celebrate Eucharist, that we are entering kairos time, and that we are, in reality, celebrating a cosmic Eucharist, with everyone, past, present and future, in all times and in all places. The quantum physics people tell us that this is absolutely the case, because there is no such thing as time and space, only intention. What this means is that our intention about what we are doing up here at the altar, and every place else, matters immensely.

So as we go plummeting into the new year, I invite you to remember the light, perhaps to light candles on the feast of the Epiphany which is Tuesday, Jan 6, and perhaps not to make any New Year’s resolutions other than this most important one: remember the light! If we remember the light, then everything else that happens is put into correct perspective. Holding that perspective is difficult in a world that wants us to believe that there is not enough, never enough, and that there is no hope. We know better, no matter what it looks like in any given moment. Our job is to remember the light, and then hold it up for others.

I want to finish with a small meditation from my friend Stefan Waligur:

QUESTIONS FOR THE CROSSING: As we enter a new year these questions of crossing come to mind:

What threshold am I walking (perhaps running) through?

What did I once cling to that now I am letting go of? What is letting go of me?

What new path is opening before me? What is the life that longs to live in me?

What is it that frightens me in the crossing? What is it that delights me even more?

What hope calls me and fills me with new energy and imagination?

What impossible possibility am I being called to love into being?

And finally, although in one sense we are alone in this moment of crossing, there is another sense in which we are accompanied by others who walk with us in essential ways. Who are these angels that assist us and whom we assist?

Who are the fellow travelers to whom we may turn when my journey clearly becomes ours?

May your New Year be blessed!