God’s Incarnational Ministry

“In the beginning God…” Genesis assumes God. God does not have to be introduced. God is the primary character. And God acts. God creates, blesses, gives laws, judges, grieves, saves, elects, promises, makes covenants, provides counsel, protects, confers responsibility to humans, and holds them accountable, all before Abraham shows up on the scene. Genesis is all about God. The Bible begins with a testimony to the universal activity of God. And God is the hero of every story.

Before time began, God existed in community. The mysterious doctrine of the Trinity confesses God’s oneness as a relational and communal being. Fellowship in love within God’s being describes God’s existence prior to any word about the world. “In the beginning God…”

In God’s loving fellowship, God desired to create a place where God would extend fellowship to God-like beings. In the first chapter in the book about God, the word for “God” is used 32 times; “God said” 8 times; “God saw” 7 times. God ordered chaos and filled emptiness. God is God and freely brings into being that which is not God. The created depend on the Creator God for their existence and continuing life. The male and female together created in God’s image are both given authority to govern creation (1:26-31). God’s creative activity not only brought the world into being, but also effectively engaged in the lives of people long before Israel came into being.

However, not long into the story about God, people broke relationship with God. The story begins in loving fellowship, but the plotline of God’s story unfolds by God acting in the world in order to restore God’s relationship with creation and especially with humanity. God’s redemptive purposes are universal. And though people sin, they remain God’s good creation, created in the divine image (5:1-2, 9:6). God’s love for humanity carries the story forward in dramatic, often tragic, ways. For instance, God begins showing up in the story less and less. With each patriarch, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, God’s words and God’s actions are more reticent. God steps back from human history so people can step forward. Skip your rock across the pages of God’s story in the Hebrew Scriptures and God’s grand appearances slowly fade into the background. At times, it feels like a drought. As the story of God unfolds, smaller and smaller audiences witness God’s attendance. And repeatedly Israel is stunned by God’s silence. The Psalmist cries out more than once, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Ps 13:1). And in some stories, the drought stuns us. God is not even mentioned in the story of Esther. During the Babylonian period of captivity, God only reveals God’s Self in a vision to an odd fellow living in a refugee camp. And the people waited and longed for God to show up again. While Israel is asked to “Behold God” (Isa. 40:5, 9-10) during Second Temple Judaism, the people lost sight of God’s promised restoration. Even though God was present (Hag. 1:13, 2:4), the people could not see. And after Malachi, drought lasted around 400 years.

That drought is why John’s words are so stunning. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all people. … The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1-4, 14).

God became flesh. God was made visible and audible in the person of Jesus. The incarnation changes everything. God in Jesus was now made known fully in ways never before seen or experienced. As Paul says, “He is the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15a); And again he says, “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col 2:9). Or as the Hebrew writer says, “He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being” (Heb 1:3). The relationship between the divine and the human is transformed. Humans now can see, hear, and know God in ways never before possible. God did not stay distant or transcendent, remote or isolated; rather in Jesus, God chose to live with humanity in the midst of human weakness, confusion, and pain. To become flesh is to know joy, pain, suffering, and loss. It is to love, grieve, and someday die. Jesus lived among God’s people, and they saw his glory. The glory Moses beheld on the mountain and Ezekiel saw at the Kebar fully dwelt in Jesus. And God’s glory set up tent in their midst. God ended the drought and tabernacled with people in context. The glory of Jesus’ ministry exemplified his effective practice. Good news was preached to the poor, release to the prisoners, recovery of sight to the blind, and liberation to the oppressed (Luke 4:18). By faith and through sacrament, God continues to inhabit God’s people and minister through them in glorious ways today. The climactic denouement is the greatest story ever told. God recreates relationship with humanity by becoming human, dying, and rising back to life. Eternal loving fellowship closes the revelation of God’s story.

Excerpt from the Preface of The Effective Practice of Ministry, forthcoming, June 2013.

Comments Off on God’s Incarnational Ministry

Filed under Reflections

Comments are closed.