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Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Stop and Reflect
distributed 12/12/08 - ©2008

This week's issue of Eco-Justice Notes is underwritten by Sherry Nanninga Walker of Colorado Springs, Colorado in honor of "The Cool Chix - you know who you are." Her generous support helps make this publication possible.

Christmas is less than two weeks away. Stop and reflect.

There is much in this season to distract us: church programming, family activities, gifts and cards, not to mention the ordinary hubbub of daily life. Stop and reflect.

Take a few moments, and remember that Christmas is a spiritual holiday. Indeed, it is the second-most important event of the Christian faith -- second only to Easter. It is the festival of the incarnation, of God with us.

The essential part of our theological affirmation gets expressed in our seasonal church services. Through familiar scripture texts and hymns, we rejoice with the good news that "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us."

But stop and reflect, just for a moment, about Christmas as a central holiday for an ecologically attentive Christianity. Ponder what incarnation -- what being "in flesh" -- says about the intimate and affirming relationship between God and the creation.

An incarnational theology all comes down to one piece of good news: this world is important. God enters into this world of dirt and trees, of people and critters. God enters into this world, this physical, Earth-y place. God engages with the creation, with us creatures, because the creation and all of its creatures are loved. God is embodied in this world in order to be reconciled with the whole creation.

The heresy of Docetism couldn't accept this. Docetists could not imagine that God and good could be found in physical form. So they held that Jesus only appeared to be human.

Nope. The Docetist, physical-means-evil theology is wrong. Theologians through the ages have affirmed that "God with us" has to go all the way. "With us" has to mean being here in all of the reality and physicality of being human.

Songwriter Aaron Tate seems to speak against a lingering Docetism in some parts of the contemporary church. He writes:

The scandal of the incarnation is that God worked in what was unworthy: dirt and blood, stones and wood, fire and flesh. And the Word becoming flesh was not merely a way to communicate the gospel story, it was the gospel story -- for what He assumed, He redeemed. Incarnation anthropology says that who we are as humans is rooted in the fact that God himself was human. So we can be spiritual and know God and be used by God, not despite our human flesh, but precisely because of our human flesh.

Aaron has it right that incarnation is not accidental or incidental. It is not a story-telling device. It is Gospel enacted. I fear, though, that even as he affirms incarnation, he isn't so enthusiastic about creation and creatureliness. I'll quibble with Aaron, not only about using exclusively masculine language for God, but about his lingering sense that things of this world are "unworthy."

Then, there's the way Aaron's incarnational theology narrows down to an incarnational anthropology. God becomes human, yes, yes, indeed! The incarnation is about the fully human person of Jesus, located in space and time. But we limit the good news when human is divorced from creation.

Many strands of Christian theology -- along with other disciplines such as biology and economics -- are recovering an awareness that humans are "incarnate" as part of the natural world. We humans do not stand outside of, or separate from, the rest of creation. We are "of one flesh" with the other creatures, part of the natural order, part of Earth. Inherently and inextricably, we are part of the interdependent web of existence.

Thus we must affirm that Christ, by becoming human, also becomes part of and enmeshed with the creation. Christ, "the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation" (Colossians 1:15), enters fully into the creation. Becoming fully human requires that Christ -- and that each one of us -- participate in the whole Earth community.

If we had any doubt about whether "caring for creation" is an important task for Christians, Christmas should settle the matter. Christmas, the festival of incarnation, draws us toward reconciliation with God and with all of creation.

Christmas is less than two weeks away. Stop and reflect.

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  • In Jesus, the Christ, Brennan R. Hill wrote: "The early theologians taught that it was the Logos that ultimately entered into the creative process as the person of Jesus Christ. The ancient Logos theology uniquely links creation with the incarnation. This theology highlights the connectedness of all created things by showing that all reality is an expression of God. Such connectedness is essential to an environmental perspective. The coming of Jesus is then a creative event that brings a newness to the earth. Since the Word and the world are now more uniquely one, the world must be reverenced and treasured. That is why the American bishops urge that their people recognize 'the web of life,' and dedicate themselves to living in harmony with nature."

  • James Nash affirmed: "This Incarnation confers dignity not only on humankind, but on everything and everyone, past and present, with which humankind is united in interdependenceŚcorporeality, materiality, indeed, the whole of the earthly and heavenly. It sanctifies the biophysical world, making all things meaningful and worthy and valuable in the divine scheme. It justifies 'biophilia,' the affirmation with and affection for the diversity of life forms.

  • A wonderful collection of theological writings on the Seasons of Creation website, asks, "If we recognise Earth as a living organism, can we also say God became 'incarnate' in Earth? Does Jesus the creature represent all creation? The answer, I believe, is yes! Jesus, as animated dust from the ground, is that piece of Earth where God's presence is concentrated in the incarnation. God becomes flesh, clay, Earth."

    The whole collection -- by Norman Habel, David Rhoads and Paul Santmire -- is titled Celebrating Christ with Creation - A Theology of Worship for The Season of Creation. Chapter 5 deals with " A Theology of Deep Incarnation and Reconciliation". I recommend it for your study and reflection.

Christmas is less than two weeks away. "God became flesh and dwelt among us." Stop and reflect.

Shalom!

Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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