Colin Gunton, incarnation, Johann Metz, reconcile

Christmas, Christ Mass, and Incarnation

This post was brought to you by the insanity that spews from radio stations. I hate Christmas songs. I detest Christmas specials (save for Colbert’s Christmas Special). And quite frankly, this “war on Christmas” and “saving Christmas from all those atheists” is a bunch of crap. You’re saving Christmas — the capitalist holiday — from any meaningful critique.

Now enter the Christian calendar and the season of Advent. Often in this time, we talk of the incarnation. On one hand, it is a perfectly legitimate time to do so. On the other hand, we misunderstand the incarnation as simply divine conception. With this problem, we disconnect the incarnation from the entire life of Jesus and therefore, misunderstand much to be seen in the incarnation.

We need to remember that the action of the incarnation made God’s story – his mind and heart – known as never before. It showed God’s acceptance and rejection; it was the embodiment of the divine yes and no within history, to a greater extent than ever before. While God at the beginning called creation good, God in the incarnation brought creation into herself. At the same time, Johann Metz argues, “God’s divinity consists in the fact that he does not remove the difference between himself and what is other, but rather accepts the other precisely as different from himself.” In other words, God accepted creation. In point of fact, “[i]n Jesus Christ, man and his world were accepted by the eternal Word, finally and irrevocably…. what is true of this nature that Christ accepted is also fundamentally true of the acceptance of man and his world by God.” He did not ontologically destroy or divinize creation; he did not conflate the divine and human narratives, he accepted creation.

God’s acceptance of the world and humanity was proclaimed from the beginning: when Gabriel told Mary of what was growing in her and she accepted it with praise, when Joseph accepted the Messiah growing within Mary and Mary’s own obedience, when Jesus was born, when the Angels told the shepherds, and when the wise men brought their offerings. God’s coming, God’s acceptance, was heralded to all. In the proclamations, God did not only affirm creation, but upheld much more about the world. The incarnation was no vague or one-sided acceptance of humanity; the announcements were one of affirmation and salvation. Coming as an infant, from a miraculous birth, the creator of the world grew up; he was formed by the divine promises of the past and looked into the future. Thus “the process of history is ‘accepted’ in the Christian logos and remains so.” However, as scandalous as the idea that the creator grew up, it is inextricably linked to an equally scandalous idea, one of salvation history – one of promise and interruptive action by the creator within history – that makes good on the proclamations from birth. Metz maintains that the otherness, or creation status, of the world is necessary for the world to be, and that “[t]he reality of the world as creation is always mediated through the historical saving reality of the world.”

However, Colin Gunton reminds theology and the world, from another approach, that the whole of creation has a telos that speaks of salvation, while affirming the creator/created distinction:

If, then, to be created is to be in indissoluble relation to God through the Son and Spirit, it follows that that shape of being, the dynamic form that it takes in its various space-time configurations, derives from creation’s relation to its creator. Incarnation, the involvement of God the Son, on the initiative of the Father and through the enabling of the Spirit, then, is a violation of the being neither of God nor of the world. On the contrary, there is a sense in which it realizes the true being of them both, for it perfects at once the Father’s work of creation and creature’s determination at the traditional doctrine of the incarnation and its teaching of the coming of the one through whom all things were made into direct and personal relation with the creation.

With the creation act bringing creator and creation into a distinct relationship, the incarnation takes center stage, where “Jesus Christ is the one through whom all things take their shape and to whom the Spirit directs them. The shape is unmistakably full of purpose and eschatological significance: “[w]hen the Spirit shapes him a body from the flesh of Mary, what we see is not just the working out of election—through we do see that—but the renewing of the whole of creation, the redirecting of the world to its end.” The incarnation, quite simply, restores “creation’s teleology.”

It is from this incarnational realigning of creation with its telos that salvation history can be understood, and vice versa: the acceptance of creation-history also meant the salvation of creation-history. While the acceptance of God was extensive – in both time and space, it was not only acceptance. In short, the salvation of creation and history are interlinked. The creator incarnate, more than metaphorically elbow deep in creation and history, would not stand for a broken state – that is, creation-history deviated from its telos. The world, humanity, and history must be reconciled. But what method for reconciliation would God incarnate use? Grace and interruption was and is the method.

Thus, Christ’s Mass should never be understood within the context of a jolly, vapid song, or the fight for a Christmas tree in a shopping mall or airport, but within hesed, promise-making, promise-fulfilling, solidarity, divine love, justice, peace, and reconciliation. This is why I detest so much the false Christmas and those who seek to wage, in their estimates, a holy war to save Christmas. We must remember that it is for their bourgeois Christmas, not Christ’s Mass of acceptance and reconciliation.

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4 thoughts on “Christmas, Christ Mass, and Incarnation

  1. D.W.:

    This is a wonderful post. I have been meditating on the season of Advent for quite some time. I guess since I’ve been reading Gunton’s Christian Faith. The celebration coming of the Son of God into the world relegated to one day of capitalistic gluttony and familial stress is telling of what has become of American Christianity. Even the mantra, “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” may be an acceptable dart in the face of Christmas consumption. Then again, may be not. I would go for “the Messiah is the Word for all seasons.” Or maybe, “the Christ is the Logos which all seasons are created and sustained.” Anyway, this reflection is most needed. Thanks.

  2. Pingback: Jesus, Gifts, and Christmas « flying.farther

  3. Pingback: Waiting, Not Waiting, Remembrance, and Zombies: A Very Short Christmas Meditation « flying.farther

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