How close God really comes

Photo by Katie Watts

This post from last advent has felt like a gift of new clothes that were given a size too big for me to grow into. This year I’m a little more able to receive the wonder of this than I was last year (though it still blows the circuits). Will you revisit this stunning love with me?

I don’t know how, but I seem able to fall off both ends of the spectrum, almost at the same time. I can try to take control and make things happen, forgetting that God is the one who gives life. And I can think that I just need to get out of God’s way, forgetting that He actually loves and wants me, not just space to do His work. The two-fold wonder of the incarnation helps me understand the miracle of the truth.

God puts His life in us. Incredible! We, frail and sinful beings, become temples of the Holy God, vessels, carriers, showcases of His life. What God did in Mary, He does in each of us. He comes close and places his very own life in us, a life that grows and cannot be hidden, a life that, in some senses, is born all the time in our words and our doings, yet is never born out of us. We who are His carry within us always the token of His passionate love for us, the promise of eternal union.

But the wonder is greater still, for He did not merely borrow Mary’s womb for nine months, as great an honor as that would have been. He did not simply ask for space within her in which to grow His own life. No surrogate motherhood, this. He asked not just for a womb, but for an egg, that most intimate image of her self which could be completed by the seed of another to create new life. God merged deity with Mary’s egg to make a God-baby that resembled her and reflected her human limitations and beauties as well as the character of God.

Do you hear the miracle? God does not merely put His life in us, a foreign being in the host of our body. He does not ask us to get out of the way, give Him space, wanting only to “use” us as a carrier for His own life. He loves us! He loves the way He has made us; He delights in us, cherishes us. And so He comes closer still, closer than one person carried within another. He unites Himself to us, His being interwoven with ours no less completely than the genes in the egg and the sperm are mingled and intertwined in the growing embryo. Christ is in us as totally and inextricably as deity and humanity are merged in the God-man Jesus.

This miracle of grace means many things:

We who are His can no more be separated from Him than can the maternal and paternal genes in the new baby.  We are His forever, always held.

His strong genes, paired with my defective ones, keep mine from inducing a lethal condition.

And this: The particular way Christ’s life appears in me is as much about who I am as about who He is. There are “dominant genes”; if God is truly the Father of the life growing within me, that life will be marked by increasing love, peace and joy. And yet many of the other features of the life formed in me are inherited (rightly!) from me. God delights in this as much as a loving husband delights to see his wife’s red hair and dimples mingling with certain of his own expressions in their young daughter. For this is love: not that it gives itself with the expectation of remaining an intact self, but that it gives, willing to take the risk of union, of being broken and mingled with the being of another, in order to create out of the love and being of both something new.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Bob Morris

    I really enjoyed this Advent reflection (again!) and I feel almost sacreligious responding with a theological point. However, I was taught that the Holy Spirit implanted a zygote in Mary so that neither her or a man’s original sin would be perpetuated in the Messiah. I wonder what the Regent folk would say? Thanks again for accompanying me on my spiritual pilgrimage. Bob Date: Mon, 10 Dec 2012 16:24:42 +0000 To:

    1. hearingtheheartbeat

      Thanks, Bob. I appreciate you asking about this and challenging me to keep learning. In discussions of the incarnation thus far I’ve not been taught that, but I’ll check it out further and see what I can find out and will let you know. Perhaps this is one of the areas that Scripture itself doesn’t actually say one way or the other, so maybe I’m venturing pretty deeply (too deeply?) into mystery here . . .

      1. hearingtheheartbeat

        Hi again Bob. I’ve checked with a couple of theologians and looked up a couple of recommended articles. The most helpful and readable summary of the questions around the conception of Jesus that I’ve found is Ross Hastings, “What DNA Matter Did the Baby Jesus Have?” in the EFC’s Faith Today “Ask a Theologian” section of the Nov/Dec 2006 issue (p. 46). It’s well worth a read if you can get your hands on a copy, but for now, further summarized, he says the following:

        Some of our evangelical forefathers (Menno Simons, perhaps Jonathan Edwards), in an attempt to guard the sinlessness of Christ, preferred the view that the Holy Spirit created Jesus out of nothing.

        This view has three problems. 1) It seems to render meaningless the carefully recorded genealogies of the gospels. 2) It seems to prevent us from considering Jesus as truly one with humanity and thus able to stand in our place. 3) It perpetuates the same Platonic dualistic position that the incarnation demolished, i.e. that matter is bad and spirit is good.

        There are a couple of alternate views, both of which suggest that the spirit used Mary’s ovum and created or supernaturally transferred DNA from Joseph and inserted this into Mary’s ovum.

        The problem (which you raised) is the doctrine of original sin in which sinfulness is seen to be inherent in the human genes. Calvin got around this by suggesting that during conception the Holy Spirit negated the influence of original sin in the genes of Jesus’ earthly parents, so Jesus authentically entered the human race, but with an unfallen nature (like Adam and Eve).

        Luther, Barth and others believed that Jesus received “fully human” genes, including the sinfulness of human nature, but that Jesus as a person stayed completely holy even with a sinful human nature, through the power of the Holy Spirit. That nature was purged of its sinfulness by His obedient suffering.

        Hastings prefers Calvin’s option. I’d have to read and think through these last two options more to know for sure in which of these I would stand. Either way, I think the emphasis of the incarnation is on Jesus being fully human and thus able to stand in our place, and it’s pretty hard for me to imagine that full sharing of our humanity without him sharing our DNA in some way.

        Does that help?

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