The incarnation as bridge

One of my favorite moments of cinematography is from the movie Greyhound. The film documents a multi-national escort group tasked with protecting a merchant ship convoy from German submarines during the Battle of the Atlantic of WWII. The film is interesting and quite thrilling. But there was one scene that gave me the chills.

The scene is a surprise nighttime attack by a submarine wolf pack. The convoy is unprotected and the escort has poor visibility. Amidst depressing music, desperate artillery fire, and a hopeless tone, the camera slowly pans out. We see ominous red lights striking through an ocean of white mist. The picture is, in a way, hauntingly beautiful. 
But then the camera pans up, revealing the horizon. The frenzied radio static and artillery fire fade to a sweet symphony of violins and sea of clouds. Below the clouds we see distant flashes of explosions. Just above we see the aurora borealis shimmer in glorious splendor, overshadowing the whole battle. The beauty is calm, majestic, and sovereign. The sensory experience of the juxtaposition between the terror of war and the glory of nature gave me chills.

“The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
    on them has light shone.” 
– Isaiah 9:2

In some sense, the human experience can be expressed as a tension, a struggle between two opposing realities: 

On one hand, the world is beautiful and amazing. We experience the ineffable beauty of romance, biological and human diversity, music, mountains, friendship, sunrises, food, and more.

Yet the world is also so broken. We experience the terrible reality of war, suicide, divorce, cancer, hurricanes, genocide, and more.

The philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal argued that the human existence is defined by two opposing tendencies—cravings and helplessness in satisfying those cravings: “What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace?” 

This empty print and trace, etched deep within our souls, is emblematic of the tragedy of human existence.

Such depths of beauty and brokenness, 
    that seem to know no bound—
So much potential, so much desire, yet 
    so far from fulfillment—
Oh, how infinite the chasm!

It is not just that we experience failure. It is that we yearn for lofty ideals yet we can never attain them.

Think about the nature of unhappiness. Is not one cause of unhappiness unfulfilled desire? Unreached potential? Unachieved expectation? To have a hope shattered by reality? And not just circumstantially, but also an inner reality — joy, peace, contentment.

“You have multiplied the nation;
    you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
    as with joy at the harvest,
    as they are glad when they divide the spoil.” 
– Isaiah 9:3

Philosophers across human history have grappled with the tension in dualist notions of the world. Most clearly this tension is found in Platonic and Aristotelian metaphysics as the contrast between imperfect matter and perfect form. But it is a common, underlying theme in many ideologies and worldviews.

Life can be construed as a conflict between idealism and realism, divine and human, expectation and reality, supernatural and natural, object and shadow, promise and fulfillment, ideal and practical.

We all hope for something. Show me someone who has no hope or who hopes for nothing, and I show you a person who cannot bear to live. 

To live on earth is to hope for more than one’s current life.

Even when one’s reality is horrible, one can still hope and maintain the inner life. Viktor Frankel survived a Holocaust concentration camp, among the worst living situations in history of mankind. He found that having an inner purpose and a hope—that is truly grounded and is not just a self-imposed delusion—was essential for survival.

We pray for the fulfilment of God’s promises in our life. The life of a christian in large part consists in wrestling between His promises of presence, power and kingdom and the apparent reality of sin, weakness, and evil.

But what happens when there is a gap between our dreams, hopes, desires, and our reality? How should we go on living? When this gap is impossible to bridge? When it is unattainable?

“For the yoke of his burden,
    and the staff for his shoulder,
    the rod of his oppressor,
    you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
    and every garment rolled in blood
    will be burned as fuel for the fire.” 
– Isaiah 9:4-5

The Israelites were God’s people. Given His revealed word, fearless leaders, victory over enemies, and land flowing with milk and honey, they had every reason to experience abundant life and blessing for the rest of the world. 

But they failed to realize their potential. Confronted by weakness, they were powerless to overcome their own rebellious sin. God let them be conquered by several empires and defeated numerous times.

During the Roman occupation, the Israelites dealt with a tension between identity and experience; God’s promise and their present; hope for deliverance and security and the reality of oppression and poverty. They desired political revolution, economic prosperity, and spiritual revival. They yearned for a deliverance promised by God, for the savior prophesied by Isaiah.

And then came a baby.

“For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” 
– Isaiah 9:6

Jesus’s name means Yahweh saves. John writes of Him being the Logos: the primordial creative force of the universe, the personification of cosmic order and reason, and the source of all physical, moral, spiritual energy and life in man (John 1:1-3). The Logos was understood by the ancient Greeks and Hellenistic Jews, yet only until Jesus’s time was its meaning fulfilled.

This is already an amazing truth, yet the most stunning revelation is contained in the statement “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14a). The Logos, the perfect one, God Himself, voluntarily takes on human flesh. While being man, the Logos did not lose His self-existent and self-relation nature (with the Trinity), but instead shares that nature with the world: “we have experienced his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14b).

“Of the increase of his government and of peace
    there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
    to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this” 
– Isaiah 9:7

There are many wonderful mysteries and beautiful paradoxes about the incarnation to reflect upon during Christmas. Just one of them is how the incarnation resolves the tension inherent in human existence. 

Jesus’s birth is God shouting what He whispered all along. God came down to do what we all failed to do. And not just in Jesus’s birth but in His whole life.

In our inability to reach God, God reaches us.

In our inability to live the life we were meant to live, God lives that life for us.

Jesus lived the perfect life that Israel and the world never could.

When Jesus healed the sick: the clean came into contact with the unclean. Instead of being contaminated, the clean overpowered and washed the unclean.

Jesus’s teachings and life unites grace and truth, for the whole law is summed up in loving your neighbor as yourself.

Jesus married together desire and action, faith and works, by fulfilling the righteous requirement for the law, paying our penalty, and giving us new bodies.

Jesus’s compassion for the poor and marginalized tears down socioeconomic, racial, gender, and all other human barriers.

On the cross, Jesus accomplished the work to connect us to God. The curtain was torn into two: the barrier between human and divine eliminated.

The infinite abyss separating us from God. The incarnation and the cross takes this infinite gap, accepts it—and bridges it. The cross brings the infinite down to the finite. Or, rather, brings up the natural to the supernatural. He merges together object and shadow.

Jesus comes into our lives, meets—and affirms—our pain, our brokenness, our sin, and our inability to deal with it, and raises us beyond them to eternal life.

It is because of Jesus that Christians can grapple God over the apparent gap between hope and reality.

For the Christian who is disillusioned by the insurmountable gap from your own weakness and cynical from the brokenness around you, look to the birth of Jesus.

Why? Because Jesus already bridged that gap when He took on human flesh as a mere baby.

Jesus experientially crosses reality and hope, for all of God’s promises find their fulfillment in Him.

“For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding “Yes!” And through Christ, our “Amen” (which means “Yes”) ascends to God for his glory.” 
– 1 Corinthians 1:20

On Christmas, we celebrate the birth of a baby. We celebrate a new metaphysical reality that breaks into our world with earth-shattering humility. We remember the day in which the words of the hymn O Come O Come Emmanuel literally rang true:

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
Thanks again to Full of Eyes for the featured image.

Leave a Reply