Incognito— a Christmas Meditation

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INCOGNITO

He came in incognito,
A thinly veiled disguise
The not so subtle son of man,
A human with God’s eyes.

The messianic secret,
Left many unawares
A God had walked upon the earth
And shared our human cares.

We did not see his glory,
At least not at first glimpse,
It took an Easter wake up call,
Before it all made sense.

The truth of Incarnation,
Of dwelling within flesh,
Shows goodness in creation,
And Word of God made fresh.

Standing on the boundary
Twixt earth and heaven above
A Jew who hailed from Nazareth
But came from God’s great love.

Born of humble parents,
Installed inside a stall
This king required no entourage
No pomp or falderal

No person was beneath him
No angel o’er his head,
He came to serve the human race
To raise it from the dead.

His death a great conundrum,
How can the Deathless die?
But if he had not bowed his head,
Life would have passed us by.

Though we are dying to be loved,
And long for endless life,
He was dying in his love,
And thereby ending strife.
Perhaps the incognito
Belongs instead to us,
Who play at being human,
And fail to be gold dust.

But there was once a God-man
Who played the human’s part
And lived and died and rose again
Made sin and death depart.

Yes now through a glass dimly,
We see the visage royal
And feebly honor his great worth
And his atoning toil.

We cannot see his Spirit,
But moved by its effects
We are inspired to praise his worth
And pay our last respects.

Yet that too brings him glory
That too makes a start,
The journey of a million miles
Begins within one’s heart.

And someday we shall see him
And fully praise his grace,
Someday when heaven and earth collide
And we see face to face.

He comes in blinding brilliance,
A not so veiled disguise
The not so subtle Son of God,
A God with human eyes.

May Day 2005

THEOLOGICAL MUSINGS

How many times do we hear these days— ‘just make it simple’, or ‘put the cookies on the bottom shelf’ or even ‘dumb it down’? Whatever you may think of this sort of approach to pedagogy, it certainly does not comport with Jesus’ approach to self-revelation, or for that matter the Gospel writers’ approaches. They were all about teasing one’s mind into active thought, rather than over-simplifying things. They were all about forcing the audience to reach for it, so that their reach would extend further than their grasp. They were all about forcing us to concentrate, or as Jesus put it “let those with two good ears, hear”. Revelation of profound things, as it turns out involves mystery, incognito, and secrets revealed at great cost and in amazing ways. It requires boiling up the people, not boiling down the revelation if it is to be understood.
It is doubtful that there was a widespread expectation in early Judaism for a messianic figure who would call himself ‘the Son of Man’, and almost certainly no one was expecting a crucified and risen Son of Man. Jesus, it would seem did not come to meet people’s expectations, but rather their needs, and in so doing he decided to reveal his real nature and God’s real plan in his own way, on his own terms, without conforming to pre-set or simple formulas. Indeed, one NT scholar, Eduard Schweizer once said Jesus is the man who fits no one formula, the man who can’t be stereotyped or pigeon-holed. It is thus not surprising that Jesus is not always, or in every way easy to understand. In fact one can say that while many profound theological ideas and truths can be stated clearly, this does not mean that they are easily understood.
There is a further problem as well, of which Paul is cognizant and refers to in 2 Cor. 3. He speaks of the veil over the human heart which prevents people from seeing Christ as he is, seeing his glory. But not only do we have to deal with our own spiritual obtuseness, there is the further problem that we, as fallen creatures, often are not ‘ourselves’ or better put not our best and authentic selves. We play at being human, we pretend to be honest and forthcoming, but much of the time we are actually hiding behind one persona or another, one incognito or another. We have a hard time letting people see our real ‘face’ indeed we have a hard time facing it ourselves.
In this sort of darkness, and dealing with truths that take us clearly out of our depths, Karl Barth’s wisdom becomes all the more clear when he said that God, even God in Christ, can only be known as he reveals himself, and even then there must be a transformation and indeed conversion of our imagination and understanding if we are to understand the revelation as well. In other words revelation without transformation of our understanding and our hearts avails for nothing. One more thing. While we clearly understand Jesus better now with the benefit of hindsight than at least some of the disciples did before Easter, it is also true that even we only know in part. There will come a day when faith will become sight, but for now only believing leads to seeing, not the other way around, when it comes to the divine incognito.