One of the definitions of incarnation is: ‘a person who embodies in the flesh a deity, spirit, or quality.’ It is used by Christians to speak of the birth and life of Jesus Christ but restricting the incarnation to a historical event is to restrict our own lives.
It was Baron von Hugel who said that ‘The origin of religion consists in the fact that man [meaning humankind though we might also choose to add all creatures] has the Infinite within them.’ He thought that our very self is God and God gives himself to us. This same belief is reflected in St Catherine of Genoa: ‘My me is God, nor do I know my selfhood save in him.’
Our search for our self and who we really are is the same search for God. In knowing oneself in all one’s depth – persona and shadow we find God and similarly as we enter the mystery of another person and into one’s own mystery we discover the presence of God.
Harry Williams puts it like this: I discover from my own experience that the tabernacle of God is with people and the Incarnation is revealed not as a past event of two thousand odd years ago, but as a contemporary present reality, a reality which involves true paradox but not contradiction, and which has about it all the simplicity of what is really profound.
Emmanuel meaning that God is with us is the meaning of the Incarnation and God is with us now in the flesh … each one of us including me and you. The mystery of the Godhead is at the centre and inmost self of Jesus but as the original disciples found beneath the surface of their own human identities was the same mystery at the centre of their own inmost self of their own being.
The recognition of this divine connection is found in the Sanskrit greeting ‘Namaste’ often accompanied by putting the two hands together in the prayer gesture and bowing to the other. It’s an ancient Sanskrit greeting still in use in India. Translated roughly, it means ‘I bow to the God within you’, or ‘The Spirit within me salutes the Spirit in you’ – a knowing that we are all made from the same One Divine Consciousness.
Similarly the Society of Friends (Quakers) acknowledges ‘that of God in everyone’. The phrase comes from George Fox who saw ‘that of God in every man’ [again meaning all of us] in the context of Romans 1. He wrote to another early Quaker in 1658: ‘So that which may be known of God is manifest within people, which God hath showed unto them … and to that of God in them all must they come before they do hold the truth in righteousness, or retain God in their knowledge, or retain his covenant of light.’
And of course a belief and respect for the Incarnation in all of God’s creatures and a recognition of the Consciousness that connects us all takes away the occasion for war and cruelty and suffering….
Let’s hope this Christmas for this awareness and insight within ourselves and between one another.