We have completed the Christmas celebration and we are now living in the light of Epiphany, the season in the life of the church where we celebrate and commemorate the revelation of Jesus to the non-Jewish nations of the world. Jesus of Nazareth came as the Son of King David to sit on the David’s throne as the Messiah. This Jewish king with Jewish ancestry and a Jewish name (Yeshuah, meaning Yahweh saves) came to be the King of the world, rescuing and restoring the world, the entire world.
What is he saving us from? What is he restoring us to? Simply put: he is saving us from those things preventing us from being fully human; he is restoring us to our full humanity according to God’s design. To say we are being saved in order to miss hell and go to heaven upon our death, while true, is not necessarily the answer we find in our Scriptures. To say we are being restored to have a right relationship with God, while true, is not necessarily the answer taught by the apostles and handed down to us from the church. Perhaps to “be saved” is about coming alive to our humanity which implies awakening to God and missing the hell of isolation from God, others, and ourselves. Salvation, in this sense, is the “glory of God,” defined by Irenaeus as “man fully alive.”
To be fully human, to be restored to the design of our original creation is to be fully integrated and whole. We are not all spiritual essence. We are not all physical matter. We are a mysterious mixture of the winds of heaven and the stuff of earth. God created man in a rather unique fashion by gathering up the very dust of the earth, forming and fashioning the physicality of man, and then breathing into man’s nostrils his own divine breath, the breath of life. God created man, and subsequently woman, to bear his image and tend to his his good world, but they would not carry out their vocation as homogeneous creatures. They would not lumber about unaware, face down to the ground, responding merely to their biological urges like the beasts of the earth. They would not mysteriously ascend and descend from heaven to earth and back again like the angels. God’s image-bearing creatures would never be at home in either earth or heaven as long as the two spaces were divided, because God created humanity—God created us—to be a hybrid creature connected to both heaven and earth.
We tend to resurrect the gnostic lie by ignoring what is physical, bodily, and earthy in order to run after more “noble” pursuits which are spiritual, mystical, and heavenly. We certainly do not need to abandon these spiritual pursuits; we just need to add physical ones to them, that is if we want to be fully human. We need a connection to both heaven and earth. We need a connection to the God of heaven and the Creator of earth. We need prayer and instruction, worship and communion, contemplation and spiritual reading; we need a daily replenishing of God’s very Spirit. We will never be fully human without these things. We also need food and drink, conversation and laughter, grass underneath our feet and sunshine on our skin; we need a daily reminder of the goodness of God’s physical creation.
We live in a post-Christian world propped up by the secular lie that human life can flourish without God. If we react too forcefully to secularism with an emphasis on those things that connect us with heaven and neglect those things that connect us with earth, we will lose our humanity. We are the body of Messiah, Jesus, the incarnate God, the Word made flesh. In the incarnation Jesus scooped up handfuls of dirt elevating the dignity of God’s physical creation which had been trampled underfoot by a Greek world in search of pure forms. Jesus lived in a physical body and ate and drank and talked and walked. He died in that body. In raising him from the dead, God gathered up the decaying flesh of the son of God and breathed into his nostrils the breath of resurrection life. We are now the people living that resurrected life not as disembodied spirits or desolate bodies, but as hybrid creatures with spirits awakened and bodies alive.
So take a walk in the woods and walk to the communion table.
Sing out loud when no one is looking, and dance if you are so inclined, and gather with the saints for worship.
Play in the ocean and pray in the secret place.
Laugh with your friends and confess your sins.
Take a deep breath and open your heart to the goodness of God.
Live fully alive.
[Photo: Harry Wedzinga, CC via Flickr]