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The Apostles Creed
I Believe In :
Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary

The Apostles' Creed 

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Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the virgin Mary

I believe in God the Father Almighty Maker of Heaven and Earth. And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, Born of the Virgin Mary.  

Familiar words, which we recite regularly. But how much help are they to us at this time of year as we take time to ponder the mystery of the Incarnation? It's a central tenet of our faith, that the second component in the Trinity also known as the Son or the Logos (Word), "became flesh" when he was miraculously conceived by the Holy Ghost in the womb of the Virgin Mary. The Incarnation represents the belief that Jesus took on a human body and nature and became both man and God -the divine nature of the Son was joined with, but crucially not mixed with, human nature. In the Bible its clearest teaching is in the Gospel of John, where it says in Chapter 1 verse 14 "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us." 

I suppose it's important, and comforting, for us as humans to know that Jesus had a truly human body and soul. They could be separated - as they were on the cross, when he died. They could be reunited when he rose again. Being a human means that he can be a credible role model for us as we strive to follow his example. If he could do it, why can't we? The virtues he displayed as a man are the attributes of God in human form, and the more we can become like him in his life as a man, the more we can enter into the mystery of God. 

But he was also God. The Christian experience is, I think, best articulated by St. Paul - who started writing his letters before the Gospels were written. He affirmed that "God was in Christ, reconciling the world to God." In the person of Jesus, humanity met, engaged and interacted with the presence of God. Later, the Gospel writers wanted to get across this same message. When people met Jesus, they saw he had so many of the qualities of God that they had no doubt whose son he was. They were convinced that he resembled God so much in what he said, what he did, how he was with people, what he set out to do, that this went beyond mere coincidence. This could be no accident. This really was God among us. No longer distant, but dangerously close. 

It's really an illogical idea, isn't it? God comes to earth not as a powerful king surrounded by angels and renting the stones asunder, but as a weak defenceless baby, totally reliant on other human beings for his survival. That's just as we come ourselves, and therefore something that we can instantly relate to. Babies also represent hope for the future - and that's certainly what Jesus was during his ministry, and even more so for his followers today. God coming to earth as one of us, to live as one of us, and inevitably, to die like one of us - and to die for all of us - has a magnificent appeal. It's so revolutionary, so illogical, that it could only come from a God who is beyond logic, beyond theology. 

In many years of reflecting about the mystery of the Incarnation, I still haven't quite got my head round it! More and more it seems to me that the words of the creed smack of theologians tying themselves in knots trying to come up with a synthesis of what the different gospels say about Christ's incarnation, and in doing so ignoring the bigger picture. There seems to be too much emphasis on the mechanics - the how - of the incarnation, and not enough on the human significance - the what and why. Maybe it's time we re-addressed that balance, maybe introducing some new wording that make it more relevant in our increasingly secular age. Something along the lines of: 

I believe in God the Father Almighty
Maker of Heaven and Earth.
And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord
Who came to earth to show us what love means

So I invite you to focus on that aspect of the Incarnation - a stunning commitment by God to humanity. He became flesh to show us love in action, to help us understand him and how we should live his ideals through our lives. More important it was a promise to us - a promise of love, a promise of forgiveness, a promise of ultimate victory over death, a promise which covers all peoples. Love - for that is what I believe Jesus represents - O Love of God Incarnate - came down to earth in a form we can all identify with - a baby - but a baby who would grow up to feed the hungry, heal the lame, free the prisoner, live the most shining life of love and faithfulness we could imagine, and ultimately save us all.  

And to the extent that we can follow his example, opening our spirit to the movement of God's spirit, loving enemies, creating a just society, caring for the sick and oppressed and so on - then the Messiah really will have come and the Incarnation and the words of the Apostles Creed, really will have something to say to the world! 

Grant Hutchison, 2009


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