“[I]n the virgin birth the incarnation has taken a meaningful form which tells us that here in the midst of our nature and humanity God is recreating our humanity, that here God is at work in an act of pure grace.” Thomas Torrance
“Incarnation” is the buzz word of the season. Christmas creches stand at street corners, churches, and bric-a-brac shops, portraying the Incarnation. Theologians and missiologists are talking about “incarnational” models of ministry. The word pops up in book titles all over the place. Thousands of sermons across the country exposit new, exciting definitions of “incarnational” Christianity.
So, what does it mean to be “incarnational?”
Pope Francis recently said the Incarnation means “giving [God] our flesh with the humility and courage of Mary, so that he can continue to dwell in our midst.” I love this definition. Francis understands “incarnational” to be a way of life, a total disposition of continually “giving birth” to Christ in our midst. Francis points to Mary as the perfect model. Mary is paradigmatically incarnational because her whole life is an act of obedience to God. We know little of the details of Mary’s life from Scripture, but Luke emphasizes a few:
1) Mary is a virgin, she has not given herself to sexual impurity (Lk. 2.27)
2) Mary is favored by God and enjoys God’s fellowship, thus signifying a life of holiness, obedience to the Law, and union with God’s Spirit (2.28)
3) Mary is humble. She is troubled and confused by the greeting, she doesn’t say, “Finally! I thought my holiness was never going to be acknowledged.” (2.29)
4) Mary is completely given to God and his mission. “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (2.38). Although confused and afraid, she boldly says yes. She doesn’t say, “But I can’t. I don’t have the means. I’m busy. I have a wedding coming up and haven’t even ordered the bridesmaids dresses yet.” She reveals a heart of total surrender by saying, “Let it be to me.”
Mary is God-centered. Her worldview is shaped by her commitment to God and his kingdom. God comes first. God’s will be done. She practices the “pure and undefiled” religion James speaks of, keeping herself “unspotted by the world” (Jas. 1.27). She obeys the Law and enjoys God’s presence, which I’m assuming means she had a pretty consistent prayer life. Although a little disoriented from her meeting with Gabriel (as I’m sure we all would be) she humbly offers her body as an instrument of righteousness. Above all, Mary values God’s will for her life above all else and desires to give birth to his Salvation.
“Incarnational” is difficult to define because it is more than a principle or methodology or missiology. Mary, the mother of the Church, models for the Church what it means to be incarnational. Hers is a religious life that embodies what she believes, giving God her flesh so that his mission can be born into the world. We, the Church, are commissioned to live the Incarnation. We too are to be “God-bearers.” So, what does it mean to be “incarnational?”
Perhaps the only way to answer is, “Let it be to me according to your word.”