Christmas,Incarnation, Emanuel

Two weeks ago during Advent,we started thinking about the Incarnation as the way God shows us what we are supposed to be. In Jesus, God shows us what it is to be human. Now it is Christmas and Christmas is a good time to think about Jesus. There is a lot Jesus shows us about being human.  An important piece of being human has to do with living for others. Jesus, while never losing his sense of who he was, lived his life for others.

Our hearts curve inward on themselves. That’s how Calvin wrote about the human condition. Hearts deformed by sin and curved inward. Modern life doesn’t, for the most part, encourage hearts turned outward toward others. Modern life elevates self above almost all else.

Now it is a good thing to be yourself, to be the person God created you to be. It’s another thing altogether to make yourself the center of the universe. To evaluate everything by what’s best for me.  By what makes me happy. Or keeps me comfortable.

We seem to never escape the original sin of thinking of ourselves as God, of believing that we are the most important thing in the cosmos. Now, to say that we are not the most important thing in the universe does not mean we do not matter at all. Of course we matter, but we need some perspective as well.

In current American life, we’re wrestling over whether our hearts will curve inward or outward. That’s not how we typically talk about it in our public discussion. The public discussion had to do with individual rights and how extensive they are. We’re debating what our responsibility is to each other. How responsible am I for the safety of others? Am I willing to restrict my actions for your well being? Am I willing to give up, money, access, legal rights for you and your well being? What is well being?

How do we decide what sorts of restrictions we place on ourselves? What is our measuring stick? The rule?

Individual freedom?

Capitalism and profit?

Support and care for the disadvantaged?  (And who decides who is disadvantaged and who is not?)

Creation of a level playing field?

And is this a zero sum game?  Can there be a balance between individual rights and communal rights?

If you think these are easy decisions, may I suggest you are not paying close enough attention to the issues.

Theologically speaking, these political debates are debates about the condition of our hearts.  Do they curve inward or outward? Am I, and those who think like I do, the most important?  Am I required to give to and sacrifice for others? If so, is there a limit to the personal sacrifice required?

Of course one answer does not fit all situations. We’re caught between the reality that each of our hearts wants to curve inward and our knowledge that God’s heart curves outward and God wants us to live with our hearts curved outward.

If everyone lived with hearts curved outward, then it works doesn’t it? If all of us live concerned about the other, then each of us is taken care of.

If only a few of us live with hearts curved outward and the rest live with hearts curved inward, that looks like…. well… what we have now.

Its difficult being one of the few who live with a heart curved outward. At least that’s what I am told. I don’t have enough personal experience to speak authoritatively. And neither does anyone else. Only the Incarnation, Jesus, helps me to see how my heart is supposed to be.

Realistically that’s small comfort to me. God doesn’t sugar coat the risks of living with a curved out heart. Jesus’ life was no bed of roses. God doesn’t pretend this is easy.

It isn’t easy for God. God’s curving outward heart is broken by us and our actions, time and again. Why should it be any different for us?

The Incarnation calls us to a more difficult but better place.

Can I change my heart, can you change yours from curving inward to curving outward without breaking it in the process? I don’t know. I suspect not. Which is perhaps what keeps me from really trying.

I’d like to know, what do you think?

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