Jesus and the Christ, Part 5
But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.
One of the confusing terms bandied about in discussions of the Christ is incarnation. The word literally means embodied in flesh. In our human context, incarnation refers to the Spirit of God embodied in our physical being. In many religious circles we hear that Jesus is the incarnate Word of God. That phrase is drawn from the Gospel of John (1:14): And the Word became flesh (incarnated) and lived among us. The phrasing is confusing because it implies that something from outside comes to live inside of us. I think it is more accurate to acknowledge that that something has existed within us from the beginning. We simply have not awoken to its presence even though it is as essential to our physical existence as are blood and breath.
To better appreciate the depth of the incarnation it is helpful to understand that it has both personal and universal expressions. God incarnates as individual expressions, as was the case with Jesus of Nazareth and as is the case with the individual life we call ours. Those are personal expressions. God is also, however, incarnate within all of creation as the Christ, which is God’s universal expression. It is that universal expression, equally incarnate within us, that connects us with everything and everyone else. God’s incarnation is both personal and universal, as are we. Unfortunately, we focus on and obsess over our individual expression to the near exclusion of the universal.
The Christ is the Savior. Jesus of Nazareth is believed by many to have saved us from our sins. To understand this, at least for me, it is helpful to remember that sin is whatever separates us from God and others. I believe that awakening to the Christ-presence within saves us from the sin of separation – the belief that we are independent, individual lives set apart from the rest of creation. When we believe we are autonomous beings we assume little or no responsibility for the well-being of anything else in creation. Certainly, we may be charitable toward others on occasion, but we do not accept the interconnectedness with everything else in creation that requires us to love and care for others exactly as we love and care for ourselves. Our life is intimately connected to that, whatever that is! When we focus on the individual nature of our incarnation we become selfish and narcissistic, which leads to loneliness, anxiety, guilt, and shame because we feel we must carry the burden of our suffering by ourselves. When we act as if we are pitted against any part of the world, we ignore the universal expression of the incarnation within ourselves. We are saved by the knowledge and experience that we are not alone — ever. We are never singly responsible for the bad (or good) things that happen to ourselves or others. Nor are we singly responsible for righting the wrongs. We are, however, collectively responsible.
What the knowledge of the universal nature of the incarnation saves us from is isolation. The Christ in us calls us to be saviors, too, saving others from the everyday hells of their existence – loneliness, anxiety, guilt, and shame. Saviors include and embrace others. Jesus demonstrated that we are not alone and that the suffering of others is our suffering, too, which is why his was a life of service to others. When we act in ways that are inconsistent with our Oneness with God and with each other we cause and experience suffering. It is not because we are bad people. It is because we do not understand the fundamental nature of the incarnation that binds our fates with that of everything else. When anything suffers, we all suffer.
One way we isolate ourselves and others is by moving the elderly, disabled, and those otherwise different than ourselves to places outside of our circles of belonging in order to preserve the restrictive status quo of our narrowly-defined communities. Personal inconvenience and discomfort become justification for separation. This recent development in human history makes families and other communities insecure and unstable because anyone can be ostracized at any time for circumstances that have nothing to do with the Christ within them. This practice is sinful because it causes separation. Better that we expand community boundaries to accommodate the needs of anyone wishing to be a part.
Naming Jesus as Christ is not wrong because Jesus manifested both the personal and universal aspects of God. We cannot claim the title of Christian for ourselves, however, until we commit to living our lives in ways that express both the personal and universal incarnations of God within us, too.
This is the 21st in the series of Life Notes titled Churchianity vs Christianity. I invite your thoughts, insights, and feedback via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or through my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com. At the website, you can also sign up to have these reflections delivered to your Inbox every Thursday morning and browse the archives of my Life Notes, Podcasts, music, books, and other musings.