Friday, January 30, 2015

The Gradual Incarnation, or, From Advent to Advent to Advent.

There is a curious trajectory in the Genesis narrative. In the Garden, God's intimacy with man was unimpeded and full; God could walk amongst his vicegerents and observe their works; He could bring the animals before the man and watch him name them according to their kind. After the Fall, however, Holy God must be separated from the man. Man is put out of the Garden and his nakedness is clothed with the skin of a sacrificial offering. 

With each new evil, it seems as if the rift between God and man grows beyond repair. Cain slaughters Abel and must not only be exiled from the Garden, but must wander detached from the land and from his relations. Even as Lamech draws many wives to himself, he sunders life from those who offend him, signifying in his wrath the state into which he is himself plunged by his rebellious autonomy. By the time of the Flood, the rift is complete, and every intent of every thought of man is only evil continually. 

Yet in the midst of the increasingly wide gap between God and man, there is a gradual movement towards intimate presence. God visits Eve in her grief and provide a life where there was death. The moment is somewhat fleeting, but it is sure. We even get the glimpse of God's desire to receive man into His fellowship again, for Enoch, who walked with God, was taken from the earth--out of corruption and into the Lord's presence. Noah is visited by God, and not only the man, but his whole family and a host of animals--Noah's name was itself a prophetic hope that relief from the curse upon the rift between man and the earth would come. When God promises never again to flood the earth, it is not a message of grandfatherly leniency ("no matter what you do, I won't punish you THAT badly again"), but of promised presence, as if to say, "I will never let you go so far from me again that such measures are necessary." It is the promise of His presence where the world before the Flood was a picture of a world utterly devoid of God's restraining and embracing Spirit.

Abraham, the father of nations, is also an answer to the Flood, and to Babel. The cleansing and scattering are sundering man, but in Abraham the nations are gathered together under the promise of God's abiding presence. God reassures Abraham of His continued presence, even so far as to be his shield in battle--a protection not before offered to man. God moves closer to man; he is more visible in the incarnate affairs of man's life.

Abraham's own relation to the promised seed goes from decreasing to increasing intimacy. Sarai is barren, but Abraham has provisions, albeit at a remove. Eliezer, a servant of Abraham out of Damascus, is his first recourse. Too far removed. The next recourse is to his concubine, Hagar, and the son of their union, Ishmael. Too far removed. From the flesh of Abraham and from the flesh of his flesh, Sarah, shall the promised son come into being.

The entire history of Israel could be made an image, the approach of the King from His distant throne into the presence of His people. With each step comes more power and influence in the affairs of His people, until it is such that when the Risen Lord returns to His distant throne the Spirit of His Presence pervades His People; His blood courses through His Body, His flesh envelopes His Body; and each summons is met with the nourishing invigoration of this intimate communion, so bountiful in its provision that it overflows wherever His Body stretches its limbs and ambulates about His Kingdom.

There is no turning back, no reversals, no Floods or sunderings left to happen. The Body is only just realizing what it is like to live without the separation caused by sin; to live in the liberating life of the One Who sundered Himself in death, Who scattered Himself in Resurrection, and Who will Gather Himself (that is, His Body) in due time.

For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

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