Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas, humanity and divinity of Jesus, and mystery

I'm holding two things together as I walk through this Christmas season. It's also something we are intentionally holding together in this new church- The Bridge- that is beginning.

The two things go something like this: the confession about nature of Jesus' humanity and divinity and how mystery enfolds this very truth.

On the one hand, I believe and live out of the reality that the Church has said in all traditions and in all of history: God became flesh and blood in Jesus- God, the Son (and our new church has also been built on "orthodox" Christian teachings and beliefs). This is the meaning of the Incarnation: God becoming flesh. Yes, we say, Jesus is fully human. And, yes, we say, Jesus is fully divine.

Historically, those in the more conservative stream have backed away or have had fear in naming the humanity of Jesus. Some in more liberal streams have been hesitant or reject acknowledging the full divinity of Jesus. The Church, throughout history, has said both.

I readily acknowledge this truth.

And...I also live with mystery in attempting to grasp this marvel that has changed my life and countless others. I echo the feelings of Madeleine L'Engle, "Don't try to explain the Incarnation to me! It is further from being explainable than the furthest star in the furthest galaxy." I am uncomfortable when we try to explain this, robbing this truth of its mystery.

But, this are not mutually exclusive: the truth that God became flesh in Jesus of Nazareth (God in flesh and blood) and that we can't explain this entirely. We live with this grand mystery that has changed our lives forever!

This is a mystery. A wonderful, powerful mystery! And, I pray words like the Church throughout history about The Story in which we are living our stories. Prayers like these, that are in "The Divine Hours" (Phyllis Tickle, p. 431) as part of my daily prayer: "Purify my conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in me a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen."

"Joy to the world! The Lord is come!"

Saturday, December 13, 2008


What about "Christianity" would be attractive to some of our neighbors or others on the "outside?" For that matter, attractive to "insiders?"

That's a topic that could fill pages of blogs, books and engage one in hours of discussion...and it has. I'm prompted by some insightful proddings, and credible research, by Alan Kreider in a small (out of print, I believe) book, "The Change of Conversion and the Origin of Christendom." It examines early Christianity and includes this idea of the attractiveness of these early Christians and churches/communities.

Specifically, I am thinking about belief, belonging and behavior, which Kreider traces with respect to conversion and the changes in history.

A nugget: "The early Christians lead us to reconsider the balance of ingredients in conversion...They did of course emphasize right beliefs...But the emphasis in the early Christian liturgies of a radical shift in the believers' sense of belonging...seems extreme to us. Even stranger to the focus on transformed behavior." (p. 103) This was one of the very attractive pieces for those on the outside looking in, says Kreider.

Little is different today. Perhaps even more so in a "Post Christendom" culture where the church is again moving to the margins as in the first centuries.

While "right beliefs" are important (e.g. God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit; God Incarnate, Jesus- the mystery of his full divinity and full humanity; the redemptive work of God in Christ-the victory of Christ over the powers of evil, sin and death; the centrality of the Kingdom of God; God's reconciling work with a new heaven and new earth) this is not the primary thing attractive to those who have not entered God's story. I do not find people, as a whole, looking for a "good set of beliefs."

What will indeed be compelling is the observation of people with a consistent way of living who, while stumbling, display love, fairness, justice, have compassion for the poor and discarded in society, forgiveness, gentleness- in a culture of violence, sexual morality, and so on (behavior). That is...will any of this make a difference in how I live?

Further, it is compelling to see a living, breathing group of people sharing their lives, serving one another, taking care of the needs of one another in the group, praying for each other, and not just living isolated lives (belonging). That is...will I have others to walk with me in community?

I am aligned with Kreider's thesis that the early Christians' conversion (the message of Jesus that sets people free, opens up abundant life) changed the nature of- quite radically, in fact- behavior and belonging as well as belief. As the church lives out this new life in Christ (behavior), and has a genuine level of community (belonging), rooted in their beliefs, and as it is "sent" into the middle of life in the world, I believe these will be the most attractive elements for a life with God-- especially, living in a world wandering in narcissism, individualism, consumerism, violence and with little sense of a moral center.

That gives me hope- to consider being part of such a community of Jesus' followers!