Indiana and the Incarnation
…yes, I know. “Incarnation,” is usually associated with Christmas. Jesus, the Son of God, co-equal with God the father and the Holy Spirit, emptied himself of his divinity (Philippians 2:5-11), took on the form of man, born of a woman, went through all the stages of human growth and development, lived with us, taught us, laughed with us, cried with us, died and rose for us and it all began at his birth, the incarnation.
So, why on this week where we walk with Jesus to the cross and ultimately celebrate his resurrection, why focus on the Incarnation? I believe we have forgotten what the Incarnation is all about.
Enter Indiana and the hubbub swirling around Gov. Pence’s signing of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. I can only guess as to the motivation behind the bill and the reaction against it. The motivation for the bill as summarized by NBCNews is:
…That the state cannot “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” unless it is furthering a “compelling government interest” and acting in the least restrictive way possible.
However, those reactive against this bill highlight that Indiana does not have a law protecting the civil rights of those within the lesbian, bi-sexual, gay, and transgendered community and therein this bill is an attempt to legalize discrimination against those citizens on religious grounds. I don’t know which side reflects the greatest truth. My guess is that the debate reflects a strange mixture of the pure of heart working with good intent from both sides of the issue as well as those who are in it primarily with self-centered motivation.
That having been said, this controversy is only the launching pad for why I am writing on the Incarnation. Let me explain.
The past 50 years have witnessed an incredible culture shift going on in America today. Within this shifting the seats of social power and influence have changed dramatically. Let me use my life experience as an example. I come from a traditional, conservative, Christian background. I am still conservative at the core of my theological beliefs and many political thoughts. I began going to church in 1951, the year of my birth. The 1950’s witnessed the last decade in America of the church’s prestige and influence. The decline of the church’s influence within society began with the social changes of the 60’s and continues to erode to this day. Because the 50’s shaped my inner sense of what is normal and right I see and feel the erosion. The world today, my world is a very different place.
Many who grew up within a similar culture as mine long for the good ol’ days of influence, prestige, and power. Since the traditional religious means of influencing culture are no longer effective (worship, preaching, programs, etc.) other methods are sought out and employed. Most people attempt to create an external world that matches their internal picture. The writing and passing of civil laws is one method that can be used to attempt to codify beliefs so that social order will reflect internal picture (This is as true for those attempting to solidify new direction as well as those who feel they are losing influence). My guess is that the decision in Indiana reflects an attempt to restore societal order to the way it used to be.
Let me acknowledge that it is tough to give up power and influence. It is painful to get knocked of one’s religious/spiritual pedestal and begin to have to walk once again with mortal men and women. It is sad to acknowledge that many no longer understand nor care about those beliefs and morals that are important to me. In many ways it feels like the society in which I grew up is dying. The stages of grief are alive and well.
Enter the Incarnation!!
Jesus, by choice, left the safe confines of God’s presence, left his place of authority, left his place of holy influence, and became human. Instead of writing laws he came to live among humanity and demonstrate God’s love. Instead of standing aloof and diagnosis human illnesses he immersed himself into human life to work for physical, spiritual, and social healing. In the incarnation Jesus got his hands dirty by touching the sick, entering the presence of the ostracized and speaking against those abusing power. He didn’t talk about light vs. darkness. He became the light that shone in the darkness. Jesus demonstrated God’s love in word and deed. He simplified the mandates and interpretations of the law and initiated the law of love from the heart:
Love the Lord your God with all you are and love your neighbor as yourself. Matthew 22:34-40
This is what The Incarnation was all about. When people felt the love of God and neighbor through Jesus’ behavior they wanted to know why. They wanted to be touched. They wanted to be changed. They wanted the Good News which Jesus lived to come alive in their own life. They wanted what he had. They wanted him. I believe America and the world is longing for the same thing today, Incarnational Christians.
A final thought. Is it easy to live incarnationally? No! It is difficult. It is messy. It can be dangerous. It can actually lead to a person being crucified. But hey, as Christians we celebrate the final word on crucifixion. The death of Incarnational love was what Good Friday was about. But, that death was not the final word. The seed of the incarnation had fallen into the ground and had died. But then Sunday came. The stone was rolled away. The grave was empty. God’s love came exploding forth to touch and change the world by creating people who would live Incarnational love just as Jesus had done. Hallelujah!!
Let’s be Incarnational Christians.