After a long year of struggle and personal difficulty (including the loss of two family members; an uncle and an aunt), I have begun to think a lot about the human body. Seeing death up close is an odd experience, especially in the sense of being near to someone who is dear to you. The smell of skin becoming cold, the hiss of oxygen entering lungs, the tang of cold sweat in the air. Whether a funeral or a deathbed, I have come to see again the cold and cruel pattern of the world. Life is fleeting, distant, and calculated in its finitude.
"For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin."
While the incarnation of the Son is not fundamentally about death, death itself is concerned with the incarnation. For those among us who are pastors, or indeed human, we see such things in our daily lives – whether on the news or on the road. Death and violence are staples of the human diet and there is something fundamentally enslaving about this notion. It is a crippling fear, something the author of the Hebrews asserts:
Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people.
The incarnation, even in all of its glory, is a punctiliar act that recognizes the obvious thing among us: death and life are antinomies that propel and cripple us, pushing and pressing us onto the deathbed alongside our families and friends and even our enemies. The incarnation forces us to consider the ugly realities of this present evil age, and then we are forced to ask—along with a multitude of the dead—"how long, O Lord?"
The Psalmist writes, " My soul also is struck with terror, while you, O Lord—how long?" (6:3). It is as if the Psalmist recognizes the lack of God's action, demanding to know what the Sovereign creator of the universe is on about.
The incarnation, therefore, is concerned with the realities of our present word, and speaks power into every instance of our existence.
God has not been silent in his world, nor has he ignored the plight of his people. As God remembered the faithful prayers of Hannah (1 Samuel 1) and his covenant to Abraham (Exodus 2:24; 6:5), so too has he remembered the images and instances of injustice and death in our world.
The incarnation is not an event divorced from history, nor is the incarnation a severance of God's dealings with history. Rather the incarnation is the apocalyptic and punctiliar event that illustrates God's action in a world that has not been abandoned
But he emptied himself by taking the form of a slave and by becoming like human beings. When he found himself in the form of a human, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil 2:7-8).
In reflecting upon the incarnation, we return to this idea of the crippling power of the terror of death. In becoming human (ἄνθρωπος), the Son has not excluded anyone from his witness nor excluded anyone from his love. In becoming human, the Son has included all people within the reality he imbibed. We look to the glory of the Son and see the fullness of God in bodily form, inviting us into reconciliation with God (2 Cor 5).
"We have seen his glory."
Thus, while we grieve and struggle, we also remember in this dark time that God has not hid himself from our sins or our trials. God-in-Christ has entered our world as King and liberator, dedicated to our bodies by becoming like us in every way. The Son did not hide himself from our presence and seeks our liberation as embodied beings, he himself just like us.
"What came into being through the Word was life, and the life was the light for all people."
And thus we pray, and hope, that all shall be well. Until then, we live in the immanent shadow of anticipation, living our lives with faith and hope, serving one another in love and joy, awaiting the coming of our great God and Savior.
Until then, we hope.