Incarnation—One Time Only

child's drawing of the nativity
Art by Lenora, age 10

Christmas celebrates the whole idea of the incarnation, when “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). God the Son was incarnated as (became flesh as) Jesus of Nazareth. The incarnation is a one-time-only event in history.

I was surprised to read a writer giving this play on that verse from John: “The Word must continue to become flesh” (Building a Culture of Faith, p 89). The chapter before me was emphasizing the need to encourage the spiritual growth of students at Christian universities. This would be accomplished in part, he said, by the witness of the school staff living as good Christian examples. This sort of witness was described as being “incarnational.”

We know what the writer means (at least, what we hope he means): that we should embody, be the epitome of, be imitators of how Jesus lived. That’s good. But we do need to be careful, precise in our language, when spiritual concepts are involved. New Age ideas that declare us all to have the “buddha nature” or “divinity within” would mesh with a concept that we are literally incarnations: “little christs.”

Campolo and Darling say, “God incarnated in Jesus of Nazareth seeks to be incarnated in us” (The God of Intimacy and Action, p 210). I would hope they don’t mean that exactly as it sounds, but that quote continues: “…and that is what being Christian mystics is all about.” Mystical experiences do lead us to a point of believing that we are god, so perhaps that quote is intended to have a New Age implication?

I’ve written before about the casual use of the term incarnational. We need to be sure we’re staying on track. God the Son does not incarnate us, and we don’t incarnate him.

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