Why, yes, that is a lot of parenthesis in that blog title! I don’t do things (half)way.
Today’s Advent thought is also my contribution to an ongoing writing collaboration from #Unco14. The theme for December is (Un)Carnation, and you can read other posts at the UncoSynchro blog.
When I began musing about this invented word uncarnation, naturally this image came to mind:
Yes, my friends, we’re going to spend the month of December denouncing the white bread of the flower world: carnations. They’re not terribly swoon-worthy, are they? Down with those bland blooms!
Actually, at risk of disappointing all of you carnation cursers out there, this post shall veer in a slightly different direction. We’re going to think instead of uncarnation as the inverse of incarnation. We’ll need to first look at incarnation, a word used often to describe the Advent of God through Jesus Christ into this messy, scattered world. Literally meaning, “in flesh,” this word embodies the answer to the question posed by that great theologian Joan Osborne: “What if God was one of us?”
I’m reminded of the very first sermon I preached in seminary. I preached on John 1, about the Word-made-flesh. Or as the Message so helpfully paraphrases it:
That sermon began with the unfortunate opener: “Rene Day-cart-ay said, ‘I think, therefore I am.’ ” (Descartes should, of course, be pronounced “Day-cart.”) I went on to expound upon the exegetical rational behind God’s logos (word, thought, inner will of the mind) made flesh in Jesus Christ. This sermon was well-founded. It was painstakingly crafted and thoughtfully relevant. And it was boring. You could have called it the carnation of sermons.
Ah, well, you have to start somewhere. There is, however, a kernel of truth to glean from that dull diatribe of mine. I asked the question: “What does it look like when our thoughts and words take on flesh and blood?”
Jesus looks like God’s thoughts and words fleshed out: that is incarnation.
But when we only speak of this Christ moving into the neighborhood (no matter how carefully crafted those words may be), and never show what this reality looks like with our own bodies and through the body of Christ we call the Church, that is uncarnation.
Uncarnation is the Word that’s never made flesh. The word that is just like so many words thrown around in our society:
“I love you.”
“How are you?”
“Peace be with you.”
When our words are only words, and we don’t allow the God who stirred the dry bones in Ezekiel to gather bone to bone and sinew to sinew and enfleshed that great multitude with God’s very breath, we may as well take down the Christmas tree, leave the Advent wreath dark and cold and go shopping, buying our worth in the eyes of those we say we love. If words don’t take on flesh, there is no incarnation. There is only uncarnation: a world in which we deny our flesh-and-blood-made-in-God’s-image-ness. A world where our bodies don’t matter and, in fact, get in the way of the spirituality of our souls. Where there is uncarnation, we don’t have to put feeling, never mind vulnerability, behind our words. Flesh is to be feared. What matters is that we get the words right, as if life is all one big rehearsed play in proving our cleverness.
But, no matter how uncarnational we may be, especially this time of year when we push our bodies past the point of exhaustion and tell them to keep up, God isn’t. God does take on flesh and blood — in Jesus Christ, yes, but also in the kid waiting for the bus in the cold and in the grandmother with dementia who still has stories to share, muddled though they may be. We can deny our bodies and the bodies of other human beings, but Christ will always keep coming, confronting our uncarnational patterns with the vulnerability of a homeless child born to an unwed teenage mom. And if we shed our uncarnational, word-weary ways this season, we might just catch a glimpse of this Word-made-flesh, playfully piecing together this world by placing hands in hands and arms in arms until we see that Love is always meant to be embodied.