Thursday, January 1, 2015

Christmas Day Eight The Holy Name 2015

Today, the liturgical calendar remembers the circumcision of Jesus. How's that for a Happy New Year?

You may come across, now and then, arguments that feasts like this are important because they emphasize the full humanity of Jesus, appropriate in these 12 days when we recognize the Incarnation.

This notion of incarnation, however, remains one of the main stumbling blocks for Christians. It's always been an issue and I continue to hear it. Much argument went into the formulation of "fully human and fully divine" to describe Jesus.

The notion is there in the Bible, in the epistles, the earliest Christan literature (predating the written forms of the Gospels by a decade or more, depending upon which one you're talking about). One of my favorite passages, from the second chapter of the letter to the Philippians, is very direct about the notion of Jesus giving up the "form of God" to become human. It's an example of Jesus' humility, a trait we are exhorted to imitate.

Still, the early church wrestled with this idea of "God-made-man," having all kinds of arguments with very subtle definitions making the difference between orthodoxy and heresy.

My own thought? I think it is an important teaching of the church, the notion of God being like us, if only in that one instance of Jesus. I also see in it a syncretized faith built out of the common Greek belief in a man-god (the Caesars became gods, for example) and the Hebrew idea of the Son of Man or the idea of Messiah (Anointed, Christ). The idea of a man also being God was common for Greeks and offensive to Jews. I've wondered if this was a way for an early teacher to the gentiles (like Paul) to explain who Jesus was. I wonder if this was the mythology that was constructed, in that highly mythological world, to illustrate who Jesus was.

I realize these are heretical thoughts for some. Perhaps, they are a way to enter into the doctrine of Incarnation for others.

What I do think the "fully human and fully divine" formula does for us is help us keep things in balance. The Eastern Church has the theology of theosis, which is a process of becoming like God or accomplishing full union with God, but I think it would be a mistake to say that we become God. We may understand Jesus as fully human, a little boy who had a penis and the foreskin of it cut off according to Jewish custom, but we also have the idea that God would give up godhood to experience our limitations and fragility.Meditating on these ideas without presuming that we might become gods nor denying the Image of God that dwells in us seems like a potentially fruitful path to walk.

Creator becomes creature and we get a glimpse at the cost of divinity.

All of which is only tangentially related to today's festival. Or else it's deeply in the middle of it.

Maybe it's both, like being fully human and fully divine.

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