God’s incarnation continues today in sacramental realities
Suppose for the moment, that God, the creative Life Force, communicated himself/herself to us from within by an ever more intense religious awareness — and that finally God manifested himself/herself fully in a human person, in Jesus Christ. How does that make a difference to us?
After all, Jesus lived two thousand years ago. Even if he was the incarnate word of God, how would this improve my contact with God? Has it brought God closer to me – to someone who lives in the twentieth century?
The purpose of this chapter is to explain how the incarnation that took place in Jesus Christ continues to bring God present to me in undeniable, powerful realities. For Jesus’ Spirit continues to live on in me.
The first key factor is my experience of newness of life and hope. As a Christian I believe that God revealed his/her deepest nature to be LOVE. This has enormous consequences for my understanding of the world and my place in it. I know that, somehow or other and in spite of apparent contrary evidence, the meaning of life is positive. I also believe that God, who is LOVE, heals me: he/she forgives my sins and accepts me fully the way I am.
The realisation that LOVE is of primary value in the universe changes my view on what happens in the world. I begin to see a deeper dimension in my relationship to other people. I assume more daring commitments, because I now grasp the value of such seemingly useless actions as selfless service, genuine reconciliation and forgiveness, overcoming violence with goodness, rating other people’s needs above my own. My belief in LOVE gives me hope that many wrongs in this world can be put right.
Jesus Christ, I believe, rose from the dead. The importance of this event is not the historical opening of the tomb in 30 AD. Its lasting impact lies in my Christian conviction that the Risen Lord lives and continues to live today. I meet him in other people whose lives have been transformed like my own. I experience his wisdom, his support, his concern in their fellowship and care.
This is not an empty statement. When I look back through my life I remember a long succession of family members, teachers, priests, friends, colleagues and casual encounters who each in their own particular way have been Christ to me.
This looking back into the past extends also into a much wider history. As a Christian I feel myself to be part of an incredible and wonderfully inspiring story – or should I say: complex of stories? I feel part of the heroism of the early martyrs, of the penances lived by the desert Fathers, of the search of generation after generation of theologians and scholars, of the generosity of people like St. Francis of Assisi and St. Vincent de Paul, of saints of every possible description, of the millions of Christian visionaries who spent a life of dedicated commitment in the service of the poor, the illiterate, the blind, the hungry and the naked. Aware of human shortcomings throughout this marvellous story, I am still gripped by the unmistakable presence of the Risen Lord in all these innumerable people. Their story is my story.
Christian life made visible
I feel joined to the Risen Christ also through the sacramental signs he left us. Sacrament means: `a visual sign of an interior, spiritual happening.’ The most pivotal of sacraments is the Eucharist. (If you feel uncomfortable with some of the typically Christian terms I use, such as sacrament and Eucharist, I recommend a witty little handbook in which they are explained: Wishful Thinking. A Seeker’s ABC, by F.BUECHNER, London 1993. ).
In the holy Eucharist the Christian community gathers to re-enact Jesus’ passion and resurrection in the breaking of the bread and the offering of the wine. For me, the rite essentially expresses in symbolic form what I cannot say in words: my gratitude for existence, my trust in spite of fears and anxieties, my further commitment to God’s programme of LOVE. And in holy communion, when I receive the consecrated bread and wine, I know myself confirmed by God in love.
I feel God’s presence in many other sacramental realities: in the priest who forgives me my sins when I go to confession; in Gothic Churches with their high domes and stained-glass windows; in hymns, in Gregorian chant and Bach’s Passion according to St.Matthew; in Christmas celebrations with the crib under a candle-lit tree; in Church weddings and funerals; in informal prayers before meals. It is as if the Risen Christ has opened my eyes and my ears so that it is easier for me to reach out to God in what are, after all, just external symbols.
My heightened awareness also makes me see the whole universe in a new light. I read avidly about the latest scientific findings regarding galaxies, or quarks, or chemical reactions in living cells, or DNA, or archeological discoveries of our hominid ancestors. They all fill me with a sacred wonder – for I realise that they are all manifestations of how I myself came to be; of how God’s creative energy enabled that long process of trial and error, of success and failure, of growth through suffering, that would result in the emergence of someone like me.
And the more I think about this, the more I am overwhelmed by its mystery and by a longing to live to the full the potential contained in my existence as a human being.
My realisation of LOVE also throws an entirely different light on hardship, disappointment, pain. I grasp that somehow even these negative experiences can be meaningful. I appreciate all the more that God’s visible presence among us, Jesus Christ, shared our sufferings, and still shares them, somehow, in us.
I have not yet mentioned my moments of personal prayer. These take many forms: a walk in the park, a reflection on a Scripture passage, a few minutes in silence. Also, events and encounters can become a real prayer to me: meeting a person I love, a visit to a museum, admiring cloud formations when travelling on a plane.
This is what continued incarnation means to me. I realise that the experience will have unique traits for every individual. Others in my place might well highlight other realities and focus on additional areas of life. For other accounts, see: G.CAREY, Why I Believe in a Personal God, London 1989; and M.P. GALLAGHER, Where is Your God?, London 1991.
I am sure that all committed Christians agree with me that the experience of knowing the Risen Christ adds a new horizon to everything we are and everything we do.
The text in this chapter is from How to Make Sense of God by John Wijngaards, Sheed & Ward, Kansas City 1995. Tom Adcock designed the cartoons. The Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada awarded the book a prize on 25 May 1996.
View the following film on the meaning of incarnation