Dean Baker, Class 1: Incarnation/God With Us – notes

This is the first in a series of four classes intended to teach four basic cornerstones of Christianity.  Each class focuses on ways in which Jesus and the teachings of Christianity strive to overcome a particular obstacle in the spiritual life. The first class looks at how God in Christ overcomes our sense of isolation, estrangement and loneliness.  Video of this class is here.

Cornerstones of Christianity

Session 1:  Incarnation – God with Us – You are not alone

The Problem: We believe we are separate from God.  Particularly in the modern era, where truth became equated with fact, we lost a sense of the numinous.  We began living a particularly materialistic existence in “flatland.”  We struggle with estrangement and loneliness.

1. God is present in Creation:

In the Incarnation, we see God present in Creation in human form.  Rather than see this as an exception to the rule, as if a distant God made an exceptional appearance, some Christians view the Incarnation of revelatory of the rule, or norm for creation.  God’s explicit presence in Jesus reveals God’s presence in all of Humanity and perhaps even in all of Creation.  This perspective is prevalent in Anglican Christianity.

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries
— Elizabeth Barrett Browning, from Aurora Leigh

2. God is present in our struggles:

The humbleness of Jesus birth (messy, smelly stable) and horrific death shows the presence of God in even the worst of human circumstances.

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
St. Paul, Romans 8:38-39

And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
Jesus in Matthew 28:2

3. The Incarnation overcomes separation and restores humanity:

For some Christians, particularly in the Eastern traditions, it is the Incarnation, and not the Crucifixion that is the key to salvation.  When God took human flesh in Jesus, all that had been separating humanity from God was overcome.  There was a sense in which the image of God in all of humanity was restored, and humans were “divinized.”

He, indeed, assumed humanity that we might become God.
–St. Athanasius (4th Cent), On the Incarnation, 54

The Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, who did, through His transcendent love, become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself.
–St. Irenaeus (2nd Cent.), Against Heresies, Book 5

A sure warrant for looking forward with hope to deification of human nature is provided by the incarnation of God, which makes man god to the same degree as God Himself became man.
St. Maximus the Confessor (7th Cent.), Philokaila


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