WORLD’s 2018 Books of the Year
Here’s the old-school materialist of the last century, sitting in his library before a cozy fire, puffing on a pipe. “Of course all religions are foolishness, but Christianity is the worst. It’s deliberately anti-science, you see; bases its claims on ‘historical’ events that never could have happened. Take the Incarnation: We are asked to believe that a human female was impregnated by a nonhuman spirit and gave birth to a God-man. How ridiculous is that?”
Here’s the modern-day grad student (sociology), sitting on a plastic chair in Starbucks beside an Espresso Macchiato, tapping on his laptop. “All religions lead to a deep underlying truth. I happen to like the idea of the Incarnation—it speaks to the divine in each one of us.”
And here’s me, every Christmas, trying to wrap my mind around the Incarnation: Wow. Does anybody really know what’s going on here?
Paul had some thoughts about the gospel appearing foolish to those who are perishing. The perceived foolishness had to do with Christ’s resurrection rather than His birth—which, as skeptics like to point out, wasn’t even an item of faith in the earliest Christian teaching. Of course there can be no resurrection without something to resurrect. Resurrection is incarnation in reverse, right? Sort of—but the roots of the first go deeper than we usually think, and the outcome of the other goes far beyond our imagination.
Genesis 1:2: [T]he Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the water, and with a “let there,” energy leaps into being, particles coalesce into spinning rock, water flows, land surges, greenery flourishes, and every form of organic life takes shape. The universe itself is a form of incarnation: spiritual word creating physical particles held together by God’s constant attention. And leading to …
Luke 1:35: The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.
The birth of spirit into flesh leads to the resurrection of flesh into spirit, yet with a physicality, a glory, that did not exist before, and could never exist without the Incarnation.
Jesus’ spiritual being was made physical by the same overshadowing that brooded over the waters and brought life out of the void. Incarnation put Him in the middle of space and time, into an unfolding of history.
But wait—why create a physical world in the first place? Almost every other religion rejects “crude matter” in favor of some spiritual ideal. God seems to love it—enough to create, redeem, and eventually transform it into something the very rocks and trees, even angels in heaven, long to see.
Back to the unfolding of history, which in time included me. Like every born-again soul, I was once walking around this world, dead in trespasses and sins, as clueless as that dark, hovered-over void. Yet the Spirit was brooding over me. In a moment, my unsuspecting self quickened. I was “inspiritualized” into eternity as Jesus was incarnated into time, and by the same power. The birth of spirit into flesh leads to the resurrection of flesh into spirit, yet with a physicality, a glory, that did not exist before, and could never exist without the Incarnation.
It’s not scientific, but life itself remains outside the reach of science. We know how life proceeds and how it ends, how growth occurs, how strength declines, how breath departs and bodies decay. But we don’t know what life is, and we can’t identify the one force that holds its billions of particles and processes together. Actually, the depth of what we don’t know scientifically is staggering. All our advances of the last 6,000 years have only scratched the surface. They are tangents; the mystery of life itself eludes us.
But hovering over the face of the deep is the Animator, who once made and now invisibly remakes, everywhere, all the time. Incarnation and resurrection are the pulse of a world always tottering on the edge of extinction. Things get worse as they get better; decay is the rule, but renewal is the game-changer. Human birth hints at rebirth; winter whispers of spring. What’s really going on?
We don’t know—but then, we do.