What words or images come to mind when you think of the Incarnation? Holding a classical view, the following words might come to mind: infant, annunciation, nativity, Mary, God with us, the angel Gabriel, or the Word made flesh. Advent invites us to enter into the mystery of the Incarnation, to delve deeply and to prepare for new life that emerges in the celebration of Christmas.
There is a deepening awareness that there is more to the Incarnation than a focus on the historical Jesus. There are a plethora of theologians and clerics from across Christian denominations (Niels Gregersen, Elizabeth A. Johnson, Sallie McFague and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, to name just a few) who invite us to ponder how creation itself is enfolded into the Incarnation.
In the Word made flesh, we see the embodied expression of creation. Elizabeth A. Johnson puts it this way: “the Word of God’s embodied self became a creature of Earth, a complex unit of minerals and fluids, an item in the carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen cycles, a moment in the biological evolution of this planet. Jesus carried within himself ‘the signature of the supernovas and the geology and life history of the Earth.’”
In the Incarnation, science and faith intersect. The Gospel of John invites us into the deep mystery of the Incarnation in which creation is embedded into Christ’s nature. Creation emerges through him, “all things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being” (John 1:3). In addition, Christ is made of the material of creation, “and the Word became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:14a).
Can this understanding of the Incarnation can help us to see and experience the Earth as sacred? Can it help us to respond differently to the challenges facing the planet? Can it foster the emergence of an ecological ethic that transforms us into a voice of the planet and into good stewards of the Earth?
Advent is the perfect season to ponder these questions as we prepare to celebrate the inbreaking of God into the world over 2,000 years ago, and as we wait for Christ to break into our lives and the world in new ways.
One of our travelling companions during Advent is the prophet Isaiah. Speaking to the Israelites who have lost their way and are on the brink of catastrophe, he reminds them that idolatry is a path that leads only to self-destruction. Isaiah attempts to redirect them to the alternative path of hope and justice promised by God. For him, God is a God of hope, compassion, justice, peace, mercy, consolation and comfort.
During the second Sunday of Advent, we hear Isaiah say, “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins” (Isaiah 40:1-2).
Isaiah calls out to us to turn to God and all will be well, because God who comforts us is with us.
Does God’s comfort include the Earth and its burning forests, its drying lakes, its endangered species, its flooded communities, its arid soil, its rising sea levels, its warming climate, its marginalized and vulnerable people?
What if the mystery unfolding for us in Advent is a new awareness that creation is enfolded into the Incarnation? What if this Advent we prepared our hearts to enter into the mystery of a deepening incarnation in which God’s breaking into the world extends into material existence?
What if in the Incarnation we see God’s love imprinted in nature? Might we begin to see that we are called to be a consoling and comforting presence to the Earth as Jesus is to us?
This Advent, may we awaken to a new awareness of the sacredness of the Earth.
Creation Matters is a new column in The Anglican.