‘The Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us’. I love that translation of John 1:1 from the Message Bible – it gets it in a nutshell. The incarnation is not about God working into an area, it’s about him jumping right in and living there.
When we moved onto the Whyke Estate nineteen years ago, we didn’t do so out of a sophisticated theology of the incarnation, we simply wanted to live somewhere where we hoped we might be able to do something positive, but now I see that the incarnation provides us with a model that sums up what we have (unwittingly for sure) been doing.
Too many churches and organisations try to work into particular areas. But there is no substitute for actually being in an area: living there, being present, not just turning up for a few hours and then going home again (and yes, my Anglican friends, I do hear you telling me that that is just what the parish system is designed to do!).
And there is a strange thing that happens when you do that. Your whole attitude to the place changes: you become a part of it, and it becomes a part of you. I used to see myself as someone from my church, living on this particular estate, kind of like a missionary. Now I don’t – I simply see myself as an estate resident with a Christian faith, and what I do comes inevitably from that faith. This place has shaped me, as much as it has been shaped by me.
I wonder if Jesus experienced something along those lines too, as he took up residence on this earth? How did it change him, I wonder?
We occupy a transient time, where we live in places, use things, and engage in activities ‘until further notice’ (to use sociologist Zygmunt Bauman’s memorable phrase). When those places, things and activities (and people?) are no longer needed, we discard them and move onto something else. It need hardly be said that is no way to build sustainable communities!
The first thing I think the Church has to offer, then, when it comes to building local sustainable communities is something rooted in a model of the incarnation. That means we won’t flit in and out of our communities (wherever and whatever they may be), but we will stick with them and invest into them.
So let’s take what the incarnation shows us and offer it to others as a model for how to live, always seeking at the same time to find ways to develop it in ourselves.
I think Jesus came to save the sinners of this world so this would be important to him.
You cannot beat being immersed in a community and letting it change you for showing God’s love. We are so often afraid of change that we resort to Holy huddles that are of no use. I like the thought of wondering how Jesus changed with the place he lived in, I suppose the only clue we have is that “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man” (Luke 2:52). Now why would God have to grow in wisdom and stature?
Maybe Jesus was born a real baby, with a baby’s wisdom and stature, so naturally he had to grow in wisdom and stature, just like all of us.
Here’s another good one: ‘Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered’ (Hebrews 5:8) Now why would God have to learn obedience? Maybe for the first time in eternity, the bond between God (Father/Son/Spirit) was severely strained through suffering during Jesus’ incarnation… So Jesus said he’d do it, and now he’s suffering bitterly for it, so his choice of drinking the cup of death was him ‘learning obedience’.
So, maybe incarnation is like physical exercise: if it’s not hurting, it’s not real!
Reblogged this on and commented:
Part 2 of Ruth Valerio’s reflections on her plenary session at the recent conference on church and sustainable comunities, held at Redcliffe College on 1st March. Andy
Very interesting. How large a space can a “local community” occupy? Is “Chichester” too big? Is it purely geographic? I may be slightly off topic here, but it made me reflect on being part of a local church. Modern life seems to be all about moving on, and our consumer culture means we shop around for a church we feel is “right”. Maybe we should try sticking with the church we find closest to us? But if you’ve been at a church for 5 years, and consider them family, and then move house (for wide variety of reasons, eg children leave home or landlord puts up the rent to unaffordable level) shouldn’t we stick with them rather than keep changing and invest in them as one of our communities?
I’m thinking we all interact with various communities – for me, my work colleagues, for example – and the challenge is to represent the incarnation with all of them.
Very interesting topic, Ruth!
Thanks Holly, glad it’s got you thinking! Nice thoughts.
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