Do you believe in the incarnation?
My 1939 Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines incarnation as “the union of divinity with humanity in Christ.”
This happened, if the Bible is to be believed, by way of the divinity impregnating a female human. And in my struggle — whereby reason combines with disappointment to oppose faith — I come, once again, to this story, this myth of God in the flesh: Jesus.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” so begins the Gospel of John. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth … No one has ever seen God, [but] the only Son, … he has made him known.”
The Gospel of Matthew, recalling the old prophecy, says, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel (which means, God with us).”
This is the essence of the Christmas story.
Story is one of those words that have opposite meanings. When we accuse someone of telling a story, that story is a lie. When we honor someone for telling a story, that story is a truth.
Not fact, but truth. Stories often illustrate truth.
I do not know if the story of Jesus is factual; my sense of reason does not process it as such. But, when I listen to the story using my sense of imagination, I can accept its truth.
“And from his fullness have we all received, grace upon grace,” the first chapter of John continues.
Jesus is like a superhero. But he doesn’t save the world through violence. He is less like Batman, Superman and Spiderman, and more like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela. Or, rather, they were like him. As peaceful revolutionaries, they saved people by empowering them and by speaking truth to power. Jesus often did it through telling stories, called parables.
My sister recently reminded me of “The Little Match Girl,” a Hans Christian Anderson short story that my mother read to us when we were young. It’s about a little girl who, on the last night of December, huddles in the bitter cold, unable to go home until she has sold her bundle of matches. One by one, she lights the matches to keep warm, and, as each match lights, the girl’s cold, gray world dissolves into visions of light and warmth, each more beautiful than the last.
My sister and I both have strong memories of this story. As my mother read it to us, we snuggled at her sides on our comfortable couch, in our warm house. But the little girl lived in another world, where children are cold and hungry, where they must earn their keep, where they are beaten if they don’t. It’s a world that I, a young child, never knew existed.
This story opened a space inside me for pity, for empathy and compassion. Was it factual? Unlikely. But it was truth.
“If we understand the truth of story, we are more able to feel at home in the world of the Gospels,” writes Madeleine L’Engle in “Bright Evening Star.”
In the Gospels, Jesus heals those with chronic conditions, such as the man who had been born blind. He empowers women, such as the one at the banquet whose presence no man would acknowledged. He gives dignity to the poor, such as the widow who gave a penny, which was all she had.
In the incarnation, Jesus shows us what God is like.
What a story.
Luanne Austin lives in Mount Sidney. Contact her at RuralPen@aol.com or on Facebook.