Implications of the incarnation

As I systematically read through the Bible, but at a much slower pace than those who read through the Bible in a year, my reading of Scripture is frequently out of sync with the seasons of the church calendar. This Advent I have been reading through the last chapters of the gospel of Luke which include Jesus trying to get his followers to understand that he is going to Jerusalem to die and then be resurrected, his final days of ministry in Jerusalem, his death, and his resurrection. In my reading I have been struck by how much Jesus’s physical nature plays a part in what the gospel writers are saying. His sacrifice for the sin of all humanity is a very physical one with beatings, a cruel means of execution, and very literal physical death. Luke also makes it very clear that Jesus’s resurrection is also quite physical. When he shows himself to his followers they not only see him, but he invites them to touch his body which still bears the marks of his crucifixion and he demonstrates his physical nature by eating with them. When I turned the page and began reading in John’s gospel, he writes about the divine eternal Word taking on physical form by saying that the Word became flesh.

Even though I had not planned it this way, spending time thinking about the physical nature of Jesus fits very much into the season of Advent as we anticipate the celebration of the incarnation of Jesus. The physical nature of Jesus has ethical as well as theological implications. If it was important for Jesus to become physical to be our high priest and provide the sacrifice for our sins, then being physical must be an important part of who we are as human beings. Knowing that Jesus had a physical body in his resurrection implies that the eternal existence that we will have after death will be a physical one as well.

All of this helps us to understand that we as human beings exist as an integration of physical body and nonmaterial spirit, not just in this life, but eternally. The integration of body and spirit that is an essential part of our human nature tells us that we are who we are throughout the physical life of our body and should not be considered less than human at stages of development or degeneration during which we are clearly physically present but our non-material mental faculties appear to be absent. It also implies that what we do with our bodies is intimately connected with who we are as a person. We cannot treat our bodies is something that we own and can use for our pleasure without our actions having an impact on who we are as a person. It also means that we who treat our patients’ physical bodies are dealing with something that is sacred.

I pray that as we celebrate Christmas we will reflect on the amazing implications of the eternal Word becoming flesh in the form of a baby born in Bethlehem.

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