Truth is a topic that has been on my mind a lot this year, as the world seems to be careening towards an epistemological precipice, driven closer and closer to the edge by a world filled with lies, propaganda, polarization, and relativism. In a world of such grand illusions, I take comfort in knowing that I serve a God who doesn't merely utilize truth when it's convenient, but a God who is truth always. Yet as we draw closer to our celebration of the Christ's incarnation, I'm left with a bad taste in my mouth in regard to truth, because in some ways, the incarnation seems disingenuous. Does Jesus really embody truth? I mean, literally, does he embody it? Because the way Christian thinking often goes, it seems like in the taking on of a human body, the God-man actually masked the truth. Jesus is divine, glorious, holy, magnificent, and all other good and amazing terms you can think of. But when the Word became flesh, it seems like his divinity and his glory were actually being concealed.
Yet I know that God is truth, so the more I thought about the incarnation, the less comfortable I became with our popular conception of Jesus as masked divinity. Didn't Jesus - only three verses after declaring himself the truth - tell his disciples that "anyone who has seen me has seen the Father?" If you have eyes to see, you can't ever look at Jesus and see primarily humanity. Jesus's divinity doesn't only sometimes break through, as we typically think of it doing - when we see astonishing feats of miraculous power, or in transfiguring glory. No, his divinity is always present. Jesus doesn't cloak a divinity which sometimes breaks through. No! Jesus doesn't cloak divinity, he's cloaked with it.
Rattling our misconception around in my brain for a while, I've concluded that our problem in thinking about the incarnation is a bit Marcionite. Marcion was an early heretic who compared Jesus to the Old Testament depictions of God and said, "these two gods can't be the same guy." The god of the Old Testament declared God's presence in burning bushes, pillars of fire, and booming voices. The god of the Old Testament was vindictive, unmerciful, and punitive. But in the New Testament, we see something much different. Jesus presented himself as meek and mild - as loving and forgiving. These are two different gods! Of course we Christians would denounce Marcion and say that we don't believe such a thing. Yet while we declare that the God of the Old and New Testaments are the same, why is it that when we see Jesus, we so rarely see the Father he claimed to show us? We may intellectually disdain Marcionism. We may theologically agree that God and Jesus are one. But our eyes are so often tricked by an optical illusion which can't help but see Marcionism play out in the way we view Jesus, no matter how much we may verbally deny such a thing.
What if Jesus was right, though? What if he actually showed us the Father? I mean, not just sometimes, like when he cast out demons or did miraculous healings. What if Jesus didn't mask divinity, but was rather encompassed by it? All the time. If Jesus showed us not a Marcionite god, but a loving Father, could we have eyes to see a Father who clothed his naked and fearful children in the Garden? Could we see a Father who wept over the blood of Abel while showing mercy to the very one who murdered him? If Jesus showed us the Father, might we have eyes to better see a mother hen seeking to gather her chicks, as the Father withheld judgment for centuries on Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in hopes that there might be repentance? If Jesus showed us the Father, might we be able to look back and see God as a tender, nursing mother (Num. 11:12)? If Jesus showed us the Father, could we develop ears to hear God not only in the booming voice from Sinai, but in the still small voice on *Horeb? If Jesus didn't actually cloak divinity, but was rather cloaked with it, might we not only see God the Father omnipresent in the New Testament, but Jesus the Son omnipresent in the Old?
Once again, I think our problem is that we have a misconception of glory. When we think "glorious," we think "powerful," "glowing appearance," and "booming voice." We think of a glory so immense, it's a consuming fire. Isn't this how the Old Testament depicts God? Just take a look at 2 Samuel 22. " From the radiance of his presence, blazing coals were ignited. The Lord thundered from heaven; the Most High made his voice heard." Look at that! Radiance, blazing coals, ignited, thundered. Who could deny that this is what glory looks like! Yet the author of Hebrews reframes glory for us when he says that "The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact expression of His nature." Philippians 2 also shows us more clearly how the glory of the God-man played out. Jesus is God by nature, and to represent God to humanity he took on the form of a servant. I John 4 also expounds on this concept. The beginning of the chapter talks about the incarnation of Jesus - who has come from God. Immediately following the discussion of incarnation, the author tells us that love also comes from God, and love is how God's sons and daughters are recognized. Love and service are the nature and glory of God exhibited. They have divine origins.
As we come to the incarnation of the Christ this Christmas season, then, it is important for us to jettison our Marcionite tendencies. Jesus is not God concealed by a fleshly body. No, he is a human infused with and encompassed by divinity. Every word Jesus spoke was filled with resounding love. Every touch Jesus gave was a consuming fire that began to destroy the natural evil of illness which has pervaded our world, or the moral evil of sin which has pervaded our hearts. There is absolutely nothing that Jesus did which was devoid of love. I John 4 tells us that such is the composition of the divine, and is probably why Jesus told us that the mark of his incarnational Spirit living in us is determined by our love for one another. We know that the divine lives within us by the presence of love. God is love. Love comes from God. Jesus comes from God. Jesus is love. Jesus and the Father are one, and in seeing Jesus, we see the Father and know Him. The incarnation of Jesus, then, rings true. God did not conceal himself when he took on humanity, but rather revealed to us both his truest self, and our truest selves. In Jesus, the second Adam, we were shown both what the Father is truly like and what true humanity is called to be. A human who, like an arrow, flies true towards its mark, will hit the target of embodied love. And in unrelenting, unwavering, unending love, we find the source and sustainer of this love - the truest fabric of the universe - our loving Father.
As we prepare our hearts and minds for the incarnation, know that when you think of a poor, helpless babe lying in a manger, you are seeing not a humanity which conceals a secret we have to wait decades to catch glimpses of, or millennia to see fully in glory. No! You are seeing the purest form of truth and love! You are seeing pure divinity! For in seeing self-sacrificial, unconditional love, you are not merely peering into the face of a helpless human baby, but into the face of our divine Father, arrayed in all his glory.
*Horeb is another name for Sinai, so the booming voice and still small voice came at the same location. I use the two different names because it sounds better literarily.