Tony Jones posed the following Advent reflection on his renown blog at Patheos:
Instead, I’m most interested in what the Incarnation tells us about God, human beings, creation, the Cosmos, the End Times, Heaven, Hell, salvation, or anything else…from a Progressive Christian perspective.
I think it’s best to take these in turn since the possibility of God becoming a human might not always lead to logical or complementary conclusions. I take a highly skeptical, even aloof, position to attempt such a speculative exercise. Rather than approach this from a religious and textual argument, I want to explore ways the possibility of an Incarnation might speak to us all throughout a spectrum of vehement believers to ardent skeptics. I assume the goodness of God in the event of Incarnation and the presence of Heaven and Hell for the sake of the argument. These are speculative, of course.
God - Becoming a human being for a period of time limits God. It is a mystery that God could dwell in a human form such as is common. However, if this is true, God has chosen to work within the confines of such spatially limited, temporal, weakened terms. The “human contractual agreement” reveals so much about the length God would go to experience life among us. God self-limits to instruct us and to be instructed. God can know to a limited degree a first person perspective in the event of Christ. God’s motives for being Incarnate suggests much about God’s nature and desire to engage Creation and Humanity. Whether it is reconciliation, love, truth, righteousness, or whatever else motivated God, all of these and more convey the degree to which this Incarnational story reveals the shocking personality of this rather curious God.
Humanity - How humans perceive the possibility of an Incarnation cannot be uniformly anticipated or defined. Every human emotion and action is to be expected as such an absurd possibility. Such an assertion must bring out the best and worst in us all. Doubt. Fear. Resentment. Violence. Embrace. Hope. Love. Emulation. If God has done such, humanity must react. Believers will assert such an event with confidence and dogma. Swords pointed at those who might hint at a possible issue. Skeptics will retort with valid arguments that punch holes in the nature of faith. Violence, combativeness, frustration, polarity. And, more wonderfully there will be enlightenment, love, mutuality, openness. The range of possibilities might suggest God’s motive in the event of Incarnation.
Creation - The event of God, the Creator (presumably), entering the created order validates its worth. Creation becomes worthy of participation and engagement. I can see potentially how Creator blessed Creation upon coming. If it is true, then Creation shares a similar dignity as humanity. Both have been graced with the event of God’s presence. Creation is an open system that enables the Creator to enter and depart according to Creator’s intentions.
Cosmos – If Cosmos is meant to be the Greek notion of order in the universe, then as with Creation there is a gracing, a validation, a visitation of God. If Creation exists without a Creator or if God is a part of Creation’s eternal past, then the coming of God in the Incarnation speaks value to the Eternal order as well. The Incarnation is a visitation of a Higher Order to this Cosmic one. Incarnation verifies the goodness of the Cosmos – at least for a time. If God exists as a human being in the limitations of the Cosmos, God agrees with this order, to some degree for a time. What God feels after the fact can only be known by God. Cosmos has maintained since, so I can only assume God’s approval remains.
End Times – Incarnation is an event. It happened. If it happened in Christ, it has ended with his Ascension. The End Times might be the departure of God in an Incarnated form. Perhaps, this is the End Times most often over looked — the End Times when God no longer lived in a body among humans. That departure might be as cataclysmic as the Eschatological vision.
Heaven - If God presumably signifies a Heavenly state of existence, then Heaven and Earth have met in the Incarnation event. Heaven as a state of existence entered the Created Order and suggests the possibility of the two being one. Whether God has left Heaven on Earth or taken it with his departure is not clearly known. One can believe the Incarnation has been a model of Heaven remaining on Earth through the coming of the Spirit. One can believe this Heaven can be extended to others in the presence of God’s Kingdom working among all peoples. But that is a theological and textual debate.
Hell - Hell is not addressed in the event. Incarnation does not engage Hell as a place but it might as an event. If there is Hell in events, God’s presence would combat the evil the Incarnated God encountered. The event of Hell would not endure the event of Heaven in the Incarnated God. However, God’s departure from the Incarnation possibly ends the presence of Heaven on Earth. Textual arguments suggest meetings between the Incarnated God and an Adversary, aka the Devil, but these are for religious speculation once again.
Salvation - This final point suggests the most uplifting potentiality in my perspective. Incarnation suggests the salvation of humanity since God could exist during the course of decades in the Christ event without compromising the presumed goodness, holiness, purity, righteousness, etc. of God’s being. Humanity does not detract from the event of God but the two coexist in an Earth changing reality. Salvation may be from ordinary human living. Salvation from feeble living, from injustice, from oppression, from malicious forces. Taking this exercise one step forward, if Jesus is the God Incarnate event, his life, work, teaching, miraculous power manifest a glimpse of what salvation might be in the event of God Incarnate. If Jesus is a God/man fusion, then his character and relationships illustrate how beautiful, inclusive, liberating, and empowering God’s salvation of humanity might be. The implications when discovering the person of Jesus according to the four Gospel narratives draws everyone into a life that utterly transforms our perspectives in the process of becoming like the Incarnate God.