As I was hiking through the woods a few days ago in the Blue Ridge Mountains, I came around a corner and was completely gob-smacked by the view. With the leaves off the trees, I was able to take in 240 degrees of mountains and forest and sky. I was quite literally breath-less at this sight. And I knew – really knew in every fiber of my being – that God was there. In that place. Through that place. Beyond that place.
When I came down off the mountain, still reeling from the experience, I drove through a little town where the Christmas lights and seasonal wreaths were up and sparkling. I began to wonder – is there a connection between what I had just experienced and our understanding and celebration of Christmas? In particular, does my direct experience of God -- so intimate that my toes were still tingling -- have anything to do with God enfleshed, incarnate, in a single man who was born 2000 years ago?
Deep in the recesses of my mind, I remembered (with some help from the HarperCollins Bible Dictionary) that incarnation means not just “to become flesh” but also “to enter into.” Does God “enter into” the Blue Ridge Mountains where I so clearly felt the Presence? Or other places where I have had similar experiences – the Great Falls of the Potomac River, the beach at Chincoteague, my own backyard?
The gospel of John says that “the Word was God,” and “the Word became flesh and lived among us.” It also says that “(a)ll things came into being” through the Word, the Christ, and without the Word, “not one thing came into being.” Not one thing – human nor non-human – is separated from the Word, the Christ – God enfleshed.
As I considered this, I remembered Sallie McFague’s provocative book,The Body of God:
“What if, with Christianity we accepted the claim that the Word is made flesh and dwells with us? . . . What if we dared to think of our planet and indeed the entire universe as the body of God? . . . . Is it an impossible, abhorrent, or obscene thought? . . . As the embodied spirit of all that is, God would be closer to us than we are to ourselves, for God would be the very breath of our breath.” God is, to McFague “radically incarnate” in every aspect of the creation.
Can Christmas then be a celebration of God’s indwelling, not just in the human Jesus, but in every being with which we share the planet? In every tree and rock and flower? In every star in our solar system and beyond? This is not an easy theological shift to make. This is a radical re-imagining of our relationship with God, with Christ, with earth, with neighbor.