Monday, December 16, 2019

Incarnation Reflection: Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Annual Blog Holiday

This blog is on holiday, from 17 December 2019 to around 21 January 2020.

UPDATE 3: Are you, like me, a bit frustrated with some “Christmas” comments floating around social media (e.g., along “God became one of us to share our pain” lines)? In 2019, some 2000+ years on from the historical moment of the Incarnation, do we not need a theology of the Body of Christ conjoined with proclamation of the Incarnation as beneficial for humankind? That is, does God share our pain through the humanity of Christ via the local presence of the body of Christ, that is, via you and me as “the Body of Christ”? In turn, does not this mean that we are offering mere sentiment when we focus on “God became one of us to share our pain” without ourselves sharing and bearing the pain of those we share the message of the Incarnation with?

UPDATE 2: Thanks Christchurch Press for publishing on Christmas Eve.

UPDATE 1: This YouTube Video has not gone viral!

TOWARDS CHRISTMAS 2019 ...An Incarnation Reflection

Over the past few months I have found myself reflecting on the nature of God - on, if you like, God's Godness.

Such reflection is prompted by a whole bunch of things we say (or sing) as Christians which seems to anthropomorphize God - to make God somewhat in our image - a bigger and better version of ourselves, albeit with a bit more mystery ... I mean, we would answer everyone's prayers, right? But God doesn't always do that, but being much wiser than we are, no doubt has a good reason for not doing so.

So, I have been thinking about how we really need a shift in our "theology" - our understanding of God - so that we stop boxing God into dimensions we can grasp, cease over-personalizing God (e.g. making him out to be a kind of Celestial Bestie), and put an end to a breezy familiarity with the God who is not only bigger than the universe but beyond it.


(A lot of theology starts with that word, doesn't it?! The Old Testament ... but ... the New Testament. You deserve to die for your sins ... but Jesus saves ...).

But Christmas. But the Incarnation. But the Word became flesh. But Emmanuel: God with us.


Also a great theological word!

Dangerous though it is to anthropomorphize God, isn't it more dangerous to understand God apart from Jesus Christ?

If we meet God in Jesus Christ, then we meet one who was intimate in friendship, who personally and directly responded to requests for healing and deliverance, who was an anthropomorphism of the Divine.

The joy of Christmas is that the Impersonal God is revealed as, in fact, the Personal God.


Father Ron said...

Dear Bishop Peter, I'm glad you are taking a well-earned break from your valuable proclamation on ADU. I, and I'm sure many more people, have recognized your desire to promote the grace and mercy of God in the articles you present for our consideration, for which I thank you.

I find this quotation from somewhere (I don't know it's origins) offers grounds for some positive reflection:

"Never was God so great as when (God) became so small"

A Blessed Christmas and Epiphany to you and your family. (R&D)

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Postscript-- It is hard to imagine a more inclusive sort of blessing. Could this become a new Anglo-Catholic devotion?

Even so, it could be controversial.

What if the pilot inadvertently flies over unrepentant hounds for the hunt? Some would surely criticise that misty blessing as a dastardly attempt to supervene the scriptural sanctity of fox-holes. God may freely give his rain to the just and the unjust, they will concede, but blessings must be earned.

Others will protest that the trailing plume of air-borne holiness honours equally the two integrities of hound and fox. For foxes too may look up to the buzz in the air and sniff a wet cloud of grace.

But today is Christmas and I cannot be bothered with arguments.

Straight-talking peasants in the fields have already been washed with baptismal water, and need no more than that. But if some gracious fog from above reminds them of their passage from death to life, that would be all to the good.


Peter Carrell said...

Lovely story Bowman ... but fraught theologically, I fear ... but, fair enough, no arguments at Christmas time!

Bryden Black said...

While despairing of the argumentative, and seeking still for those good and true arguments, I offer this for the Season:

Nativity Homily from St. Isaac the Syrian

This Christmas night [Christ] bestowed peace on the whole world;
So let no one threaten;

This is the night of the Most Gentle One -
Let no one be cruel;

This is the night of the Humble One -
Let no one be proud.

Now is the day of joy -
Let us not revenge;

Now is the day of Good Will -
Let us not be mean.

In this Day of Peace -
Let us not be conquered by anger.

Today the Bountiful impoverished Himself for our sake;
So, rich one, invite the poor to your table.

Today we receive a Gift for which we did not ask;
So let us give alms to those who implore and beg us.

This present Day casts open the heavenly doors to our prayers;
Let us open our door to those who ask our forgiveness.

Today the Divine Being took upon Himself the seal of our humanity,
In order for humanity to be decorated by the seal of divinity.

Christ is Born!
Glorify Him!

Anonymous said...

"That is, does God share our pain through the humanity of Christ via the local presence of the body of Christ, that is, via you and me as “the Body of Christ”? In turn, does not this mean that we are offering mere sentiment when we focus on 'God became one of us to share our pain' without ourselves sharing and bearing the pain of those we share the message of the Incarnation with?"

"Today the Divine Being took upon Himself the seal of our humanity,
In order for humanity to be decorated by the seal of divinity."


Anonymous said...

"... fraught theologically, I fear ... "

If you were intrigued or amused, Peter, then I am satisfied. But if a rite for aerial asperges were to take off, so to speak, I would be disquieted.

There are comments to entertain, and comments to persuade. The former start with something odd, or we would not pay attention to them. The latter start with something we very surely know, or we cannot believe the conclusion that they allege that we do not know. In a similar way, ladders have their feet on the ground rather than in the air, and they stretch rung by rung through the air to some place that is often not as we expected.

Alas, I do not know how to classify comments that start with what we do not know, leap through space, and end with what is predictable. They do not entertain, and they cannot persuade.


Anonymous said...

New Year's greetings to all Anglicans Down Under!

My Resolution for 2020: Distinguish, and respond differently to, comments here that say X IS A FACT (ie prove that some relevant proposition is evidently true), and those of another kind that say CARE AS MUCH AS I DO ABOUT X (ie solicit more concern about some state of affairs under the sun).

One proposes to add another fact to the common pile; the other, if reasonable, attempts to change the way others feel about the facts *already on the pile*. Since we cannot feel anything about a fact that is not on that pile, nothing is accomplished by mixing the two kinds. It just sounds hysterical.

Either can be a reasonable sort of comment to make. But in principle, the two start different kinds of conversations about different things and follow different paths to any worthwhile conclusions. The letters of St Paul have their moody moments, but they are never much like the speeches of Job or the Lamentations of Jeremiah.

I mention this at the beginning of the secular year because I have noticed over many revolutions about the sun that disagreeable conversations, not least those with a heated *odium theologicum*, have yammered on and on and on in a cycle that is unreasonable and to my believing mind ungodly as well. That happens when somebody is upset and is trying to argue others into being likewise upset, and in the worst cases-- we have seen many of them-- start to berate other persons online for the horrid sin of not being as upset as they are. Truly, misery loves company.

Now to be clear, when the boy cries wolf, there may in fact be a wolf. But if nobody knows that there is a wolf, then people do nothing unwise, let alone wrong, in finishing their cups of tea. And if there really is a wolf, just feeling very upset about that wolf's claws and teeth will not in itself save a single life. Arguments that aim only to make others vaguely upset are worthless to us. That is as it is.

And to be faithful as well, the most elemental of all scriptural intuitions is that the Creator, YHWH, is in ultimate control of all things, including Leviathan, Behemoth, and wolves. So given that one is afraid of-- oh, a nuclear warhead, a terrorist attack, an earthquake, a synod passing a resolution someplace-- we believers refer those fears to God and his governing providence. Indeed, a large proportion of holy writ was written by or about upset people who did just that.

None of them wrote white papers. Down the decades of argument about new rites, ordinations of women, uncanonical consecrations, That Topic, etc I have wondered whether sites like Thinking Anglicans, Fulcrum, and this one are the right skin for imaginative wine. Obviously, I love them all, but the *OP with comments* format often seems too left-brained for many right-brained concerns. For example, I can count on one finger the number of good threads that I have seen in my life on new church music. Isn't that odd?

So the hard part about my New Year's resolution is not the distinction. That is irritatingly easy to draw. It is the search for that better way to respond to commentators who have posted white papers about (really) their emotions, whether of fear that somebody somewhere will do something wrong, or (why not?) of ecstasy that the earth shall be filled with the glory of YHWH as the waters cover the sea.