Paideia Conversations, Ep. 11

In this episode, Anya Harrison and Melissa Cummings continue the conversation about incarnation, and it’s time to get practical. How do we incarnate the Incarnation? Well, let’s dialogue about some ideas. There is so much freedom of conscience here. As Anya said, we can disagree about things like Advent calendars, manger scenes, or how we create traditions or practice Advent… but what we must agree on is the centrality of Incarnation, and that that doctrine is not about an event in Christ’s life but His identity itself.

Links and Resources

On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius

Little white porcelain candle houses

The Life Giving Home by Sally Clarkson

Jotham’s Journey by Arnold Ytreeide

Ishtar’s Odyssey by Arnold Ytreeide

Episode Transcript

Melissa: joining me today for this paideia conversation is Anya Harrison from Paideia Southeast. This is the second half of our conversation about Incarnation and Advent as we continue to practice, pursue, and implement paideia. Last time we chatted, Anya and I had the delight of talking about St. Athanasius’ book On the Incarnation. We shared some of the ways that it has blessed us and challenged us – I know I particularly shared the way that it just gives me mental gymnastics and basically blows my mind. [laughter] This time, we are jumping into different traditions which point us back to the truth of the incarnation. We hope you enjoy listening in, and would love to hear back from you. What are some of the traditions that your family has enjoyed, and why? How do your traditions point you and your children to the truth of Who Christ is – Son of God, Son of Man, the Incarnate Deity?

“It Is as if Infancy Were the Whole of Incarnation” by Madeleine L’Engle
This time of the year, the newborn child is everywhere
Planted in Madonna’s arms, hay-mows, stables
In palaces or farms or quaintly under snowed gables.
Gothic, angular, or Baroque-plump,
Naked or elaborately swathed,
Encircled by della robia wreaths,
Garnished with whimsical partridges and pears, drummers and drums
Lit by oversize stars
Partnered with lambs, peace-doves, sugar plums, bells, plastic camels in sets of three,
As if these were what we needed for eternity.
But Jesus the Man is not to be seen.
There are some who are wary these days of beards and sandaled feet
Yet if we celebrate, let it be that He has invaded our lives with purpose,
Striding over our picturesque traditions,
Our shallow sentiment,
Overturning our cash registers, wielding His peace like a sword,
Rescuing us into reality, demanding much more than the milk and the softness and the mother-warmth of the Baby in the storefront creche.
Only the Man would ask all of each of us.
Reaching out always urgently with strong, effective love,
Only the Man would give His life and live again for love of us.
O, come – let us adore Him! Christ, the Lord.

Melissa: you know, that idea of truth informing tradition but not prescribing tradition – how are some ways that you have found joy in tradition that maybe is informed by your understanding of Incarnation that’s just personal to you and your family?

Anya: so I won’t repeat my disclaimer. We’ll just assume everyone heard that.

Melissa: yeah.

Anya: so, we… I love the aspect of the Incarnation interrupting our darkness and our mess, and I love the imagery that we have from John the Baptist of a light in the darkness, and Jesus obviously I am the light of the world, and all of the… I love all of the, those, that imagery. And so one of our favorite things to do… and also just to kind of cover general concept of Advent, it’s this time of waiting and preparing. One, we remember His first coming of course, and we’re also waiting for a second coming. And that second, that waiting for a second coming, and preparing our hearts through repentance for a second coming, I don’t feel like I grasped that layer of Advent in the beginning, right? You know, like, I understood the first part – oh, were remembering, and you’ve got Advent calendars that start on December first even though the Church Calendar starts at, you know, the fourth Sunday before, you know. So everybody kind of works this out differently, but I think that one of our favorite things to do is, I don’t have like a Christmas village or any of those things that generally get built up in families over time, but I did take three or four years and collect little white ceramic, like little white candle houses. You know, where you put a candle in it and it lights out the windows. And so I have one for every day of Advent, and every night or every morning I hide it with two little chocolate mints somewhere in the house, and they go hunting for it, and when they find it you know they get to eat their chocolate and then they put… we start collecting these houses. And on Christmas Eve, they find the last one which is not a white house, it’s like a little concrete house that we put a candle in it, so it’s meant to represent the humility of the manger and the humility of the Incarnation and that Christ came really in humble circumstances. And then on Christmas Eve when we come back from the candlelight Christmas Eve service, we don’t turn any lights on in the house and we only – we’ll have prepped it beforehand; the first year I didn’t do this, and it was like really hard for me to find all the candles [laughter] to light it in the dark. So now we’ve learned to have all the candles prepared before we go. And I will have made a soup earlier in the day, and we lay out a blanket on our living room rug, we light all of the candles, and so the only light in the house are candles in these little houses. And we sit on the blanket and we eat soup and bread, and my husband reads, you know, the story of Christ’s birth. And we usually cry a little bit and we talk about how, you know, even in the darkest places, the light shines. And it invades the darkness! And this is what Jesus did to us: He came and interrupted us in our darkness, and He brought what none of us had. You know. None of us are the light of the world, right? Like, He came in and brought what we all desperately lacked, and now that He is here and now that He dwells in us, like, we light the way. And this year, I haven’t been in years past, but reading through… my last lap through the Gospels really brought me in Matthew 25 to the parable of the ten, the ten virgins, and how they head out waiting for their bridegroom but only five of them were prepared and only five of them were really waiting, and the other five were like, oh he’s been a while. And they all fall asleep and then when he comes, five of them have oil for their lamps but the other five don’t. And so this year we’re gonna add reading that parable, just as that reminder of like, we, let us not forget that He is coming again, and let us not fail to prepare our hearts daily and hourly and regularly, continually coming back to the cross and being cleansed regularly, confessing our sins, repenting of our sins, receiving forgiveness. Because otherwise it’s almost like, we aren’t going to want to be the city on a hill. You know, if… we can’t even be the city on the hill if we’re running back to the oil that we failed to bring with us. And so that’s one of our favorite traditions. Actually, the meal on, the picnic on Christmas Eve was Sally Clarkson – she calls it the shepherds’ meal from the book, Life Giving Home.

Melissa: I thought it sounded familiar when you said that.

Anya: yeah, we got that from there, and then we added the candles and the houses. And it’s so beautiful, because it’s hard to take kids away from the presents. You know, you don’t want to. Like, presents are good. I’m not trying to ruin that, but I’ll tell you what, my kids come back from the Christmas Eve service, and we… just the atmosphere of the dark home, and we light the candles, and they sit down, and there aren’t any presents opened. And I don’t want to, I don’t have a problem with someone who does, right? It’s just, we go into bed thinking of the birth of Christ, you know. And we go to bed refilled with the hope that we are never without Him, we are never hopeless, we are never out in the dark alone. But He came and He interrupted all of it. And then we’re excited of course about Christmas morning. So.

Melissa: I love that.

Anya: I have some others, I don’t know if you want me to just keep going.

Melissa: so that idea of the little houses – is that… did you come up with that because of the idea of a city set on a hill?

Anya: I love lighthouses in general. I grew up on the coast of Lake Michigan, and I’ve, you know, I could walk out about thirty steps from my house and see a lighthouse, and I, when I was a young mom, I wasn’t even that young, but like a new mom and I felt very young at the time – I really wrestled heavily with how to do what I didn’t know how to do. Right? Like, I didn’t feel like I had a lot I could look back on in terms of the Christian aspect of raising my children, and so the concept of being a lighthouse has been a picture for me for a long time. And I often think of, even, I wouldn’t even say my home, my home belongs to the Lord, and it’s intended to be a lighthouse. And that a lighthouse, you know, is literally helping the sailors in the boats try to figure out, like, where do we go? What do I do? I’m lost, you know. And we, I want my home to be a place of hope in Christ. You know, like I want it to be extending beyond the borders of my walls, which is something… I’m an introvert, and I don’t necessarily want to put myself out beyond the borders of my walls… but it doesn’t matter because He’s commanded me to. And so in some ways that’s a gentle reminder of me, to me of the fact that He really did say, like, you don’t light a lamp and put it under a bowl. You know, like your house belongs to Me, your life belongs to Me, like your children belong to Me, your family belongs to me, and I have created all of it for My glory. So you don’t get to shutter the windows, you don’t get to keep people out, and… yeah. So I remember walking into a candle store one, I don’t know, during some holiday shopping, and there were two or three of them, and I bought – they were all like seventy five percent off or something, and I bought them. And I had this moment at the, like, I want to get one for every day of Advent. And it took me a few years to find them. So there’s like a variety, and yeah, and it, I would like, whenever… one time Target had some, and a friend posted some randomly on her Instagram and I was like, where did you find those because I’m like four short and I need them. And I drove like an hour to go and get the others! And now it’s wonderful because I’m not longer having to shop for them, we can just pull them out and light them. But I think the idea of the lighthouse is a picture that I often have, it’s an imagery that God uses in my heart to really remind me of what He’s asked me to do as a mom, as a wife, as a Christian. You know, but I’m not doing this huddled down with my family doing my thing. It’s meant to reflect His hope and His glory to those around me.

Melissa: I think that is so beautiful. You said you have more – you have more…?

Anya: when we, I guess some of it is actually now that I think about it, it’s a lot of the same themes that I apply to other aspects. Right? When we put up our decorations on the outside of our house, we put wreaths in the window and everything and then we put out little candles, just like one candle in each window, and they’re set so that when we turn them on they’re lit for six hours or something. So we always have them turned so that as the sun goes down, the light goes on, you know. And they’re just little, but I love the fact that those little lights, you can still see from the road. So it’s like, whenever I’m like practicing them for the year of like, okay we’re turning these on, whenever I’m doing it, I think to myself, these are not gonna be bright enough. Maybe I need new batteries or maybe I need to replace these. But then they do, you put them in the window and when the sun goes down, you see it. You know, I even, I think about the one star that the magi followed. They would have had to follow at night, you know, because they wouldn’t have seen it during the day. And that’s not how they normally traveled, they would travel during the day because it’s much safer. But you can’t see the star except against the darkness of the sky, you know, and so I think as Christians that when I light those little candles, you know, and we talk about how we as believers are meant to shine like stars in the universe you know, and being different than those around us, and Christ came to be the light of the world who dwells in us, and so here we are. You know. And we’re putting it in our window. So it’s really the same, it’s the same concept for me there on that one.
We do a Sabbath… you guys do a Saturday night before Advent Sabbath meal, right? Like a special meal the Saturday before?

Melissa: yeah, it’s in my little family now, yeah that’s what we do because it’s our fanciest meal of the week, and it’s too much for the Lord’s Day. [laughter] So it’s sort of my family culture. We don’t do that year round. I know plenty of people who do that year round. But I definitely do that during Advent, yeah, it’s our kickoff into the Lord’s Day.

Anya: yeah, well you know, we figure in Jewish day, evening and morning, it is that. Right, like you’re kicking off the Sabbath the night before. So we do, we’ve talked about this outside of the podcast, but we do a fancy candlelit… I’m all about the candles during Advent time… we do like a fancy dinner – cloth napkins, candle lit, the food isn’t always necessarily fancy, but all you have to do is put it on fancy things and the kids think it’s fancy – on Sundays of Advent and I think that throughout the year we don’t, we don’t do big Sabbath dinners either. I think we would love to at some point, we just haven’t figured out quite how that fits. And I’m, I don’t feel the need to, others, I love the fact that everybody does things differently, you know. So in general, it fits right for our family. We feel like we are lacking it, I don’t think we would add it. But I love it, and I’ve thought about adding it. But we do it during Advent as well, and it feels like a preparation for Christmas. Right? Like it feels like we’re building up. Like it’s not as big as the big Christmas meal, but Christmas is coming. You know. And so it’s that reminder of like, we’re waiting for the big feast. Which feasting is so biblical, you know, like feasting and fasting is biblical too. And there has to be a distinction between the two or it gets all muddied and we lost their application, you know? But I think about the idea of like preparing a fancy little feasts in preparation for the Christmas feast. A fancy little feast is very much like what we as Christians are doing as we await the supper of the Lamb, you know, and as Christ came, and as they waited for Him and He came and He’s coming again! And I desperately want my children not just to grasp the fact that Jesus was born in a manger but the fact that Jesus reigns on high and is coming again. And so I think all of those things that look forward to it, like, we do Advent readings… which I hesitate to mention because it would, some would be very uncomfortable with it, but I will anyway because I’ve talked about freedom of conscience. We… there’s a series like Jotham’s Journey and there’s four books… I would call them biblical fiction, okay, so it is not the Word of God, and some would be uncomfortable with the, like the liberty that the author took to interweave biblical characters into the story. But you know, yesterday at the end of our reading we’re reading right now about, the character we’re following is the son of one of the magi. And so it ended in this very suspenseful way, and my daughter was like, what is it? what’s next?! And I’m like, no! And she’s like trying to sneak over my shoulder and I’m closing that book and I was like, no no no no no. And she’s like, I’m gonna wake up early and read it in the morning. And I’m like, no you’re not because we will wait and we will wait patiently, and there’s a time for this and there’s a time for that and it’s tomorrow and we do not think that, like, we can just have everything whenever we want. And I think that that’s the whole thing with Christmas too, like, my kids – if they find their gifts, they don’t get them. And I had to enforce it one time and I never had to enforce it again and there were tears, but my son accidentally stumbled upon something when he was like five years old. And he knew the rule, and I was like, you don’t even look. Don’t even look because if you find them you don’t get them. And sometimes I’ll not hide it very well in my closet, and my closet door will be open and my son will be like, Mom!! and he’s like covering with his hands and he’s walking past and he’s like, close your closet door!! But that idea of waiting: what’s not yet here is not yet here, you know, and so we as Christians are still anticipating His return. And I think the waiting is so key! It’s so important. Like I want my kids to wait. I want them to get excited and to feel what it feels like to anticipate. Because that is our reality as believers, you know, like we are anticipating His return. And so yeah, we have lots of rules on there’s nothing done before the proper time. [laughter] Or there’s grave consequences.

Melissa: that’s something to… the material aspect of Incarnation. And it’s a little bit edgy to use that word, material. And when we’re in a season where as, especially as Christians I think, we fight to be countercultural when it comes to commercialism, which is manifest in materialism in some… to some extent, and yet, I think for my family – again, a freedom of conscience thing – my family loves celebrating the birth of Christ with material things in order to point us to the physicality of Jesus’ birth. That idea that gifts are… like, if you ask your children, what are you most excited and waiting for for Christmas… in most cases, especially the younger they are, they’re going to say, the presents! Right? The gifts. And that’s something that can make us feel uncomfortable as though, oh, that wasn’t the right answer, that’s not spiritual enough. And yet…

Anya: right? Take away the gifts! [laughter]

Melissa: and yet, right, it’s exactly the right answer. In my perspective, it is exactly the right answer. Because Jesus taught us in parables and pictures, and I love to think of gifts for my children as parables and pictures. So right now, they see, it’s a gift from you know Mommy and Daddy. But when they get older, maybe it will draw their eyes to the Ultimate Gift-Giver. The material points us to the immaterial, right? The mortal can direct us toward the immortal. But that idea of gifts and the material side of things, even the lights that you’re talking about, the candles – all of that, they’re parabolic! Is that the right word? [laughter] They’re parables.

Anya: absolutely, I think so. Yeah. Well, and it’s also, we see it in the Jewish feasts too. There’s a reason that God gave the Jews specific, tangible foods to eat on certain days and places to sleep, right, like the Feast of Tabernacles. Yes, they put a tent outside and you’re gonna cover it with the things from the harvest. Like, because we’re, He made us in a body. Like, we, He made a physical world and He made physical people. And this like, this physical world with physical people was not an effect of the fall, it was the original design. You know? And so our celebration should be in the physical world. And there, I remember, I’ve wrestled with that as well, the materialism side of the ditch, right. And not wanting to be a scrooge on the other side. But also not wanting it to distract in all of these things. And I really just think that if we are starting at glorifying the Lord, then you can’t – I know we’ve talked about this – you can’t overdo Christmas. You can’t make too big of a deal out of it, because there isn’t a bigger deal out there to celebrate. So like you can’t, you can’t do too much, you know, and at the same time, it’s been down. And so in another aspect, you need do nothing, right? So like we have the freedom to celebrate it lavishly. And we also have the freedom to just sit in awe of it, and if ultimately it is for the glory of the Lord, you can’t mess it up and at the same time if it is not for the glory of Lord, then even the little bit is done unto nothing. You know what I’m saying? Like, and that’s, you know we can feel it. Like we can feel it when we go to a Christmas party that may be a work party for somebody who’s working outside of a Christmas setting and they go to a Christmas party. And they’ve got the music and they’ve got the food, and it’s sort of like, what are we celebrating? [laughter] Like I’m sort of like, I’m sure that we’re missing something. I’m really not sure why we’re all here. [laughter] And that’s it is like… yeah.

Melissa: we have an Epiphany dinner with friends. And then we have – we’ve never done this yet – but we have friends who take down their Christmas tree on Epiphany, and they have a bonfire. And it’s this huge bonfire that you can see because they burn it with other things, it’s not just the tree I think, but it’s this picture of the light coming to the Gentiles. And so…

Anya: amen! Oh I love that! I might add that this year.

Melissa: burning that tree!

Anya: that’s resonating with me.

Melissa: so we haven’t done that yet. I don’t know why we’ve never done that. I feel like we should.

Anya: you know, I take that as a moment just to mention to anybody listening that, sometimes you can hear all these great ideas and think, oh, I’m not doing all of that yet. None of us is, are doing all of the things we look forward to doing, right. Traditions are built over time. Even like, I didn’t have all the houses at first, I think the first year I had three and then I had like ten, and then I maybe hung out at like twelve because I didn’t have the budget… like, it took time to build it up, and then, we, it’s the same thing as like, you can’t, if your heart is right you can’t mess it up. And you’re not missing out if you’re not observing all of these things. And they really do build them with time. You know, and when one feels right and it feels right to add another, then it’s in its proper place, you know. But when we feel like, oh, I have to do this. Like if I had year where I didn’t have the time to roll out all that gingerbread, you know, we just wouldn’t do gingerbread houses, you know? But when I am able to prepare for it, then it’s a wonderful time. And my kids decorate these houses for days and it’s lovely because I’m doing other things, and it’s like, it belongs and it fits. So for anybody feeling like, oh I’m not doing this and I’m not doing that… well, none of us are doing all of it. You can’t do all of it. You’re not supposed to. It’s like, yeah, if our hearts are right, then, onward! And as you’re able, as is good for your family, as is glorifying to the Lord and not a burden, you know.

Melissa: yeah, amen.

Anya: but that bonfire is happening in my house this year. It’s official.

Melissa: doesn’t that sound like fun? [laughter]

Anya: oh my husband’s gonna love it, he’s gonna be like, yes! And I tell you what, Christmas trees burn up, man. They like, they, we burn ours normally anyway, but it was never, it never had any significance and it was never at a specific time. Until this year, Melissa, thank you! It’s gonna happen. [laughter]

Melissa: well, like I said, I took that from some friends of ours. Every year I say, we’re gonna do that on Epiphany. And we take down our decorations on Epiphany, we take down the tree, but we haven’t actually done the bonfire part. So, you and I both, maybe we’ll try that this year.

Anya: yep, yeah, we’ll send each other photos.

Melissa: there we go, accountability!

Anya: yeah, I love it.

Melissa: so before I let you go, are there any other pieces that you wish you had mentioned or questions that you wish I had asked?

Anya: I think the encouragement at this time for those who observe this specific time period, which obviously we’re talking about it, so we do… is to recognize where it all comes from and that we wouldn’t be attaching… I would hate to outsource lifeless traditions. For if all the world had candles in their windows but didn’t know the Light of the world, then what good is it? Right? And we’re just whitewashed tombs and it becomes another pharisaical thing. And to think of, maybe, a young mom who feels like their hands are full maybe… I just especially think of right now, I’ve got… I have friends who are, you know, they’re pregnant, they’re adding another child to their family in the next few weeks, they’ve, they’re sick, covid is everywhere, no one’s gonna be able to visit them in the hospital because you know, they’re not vaccinated you know, all of these trigger words [laughter] but all of these things that complicate everything. Right? Like my great uncle and great aunt both of covid, one is hospitalized right now, and they live far away from me so I can’t visit them but I’m like, there is heaviness right now that’s happening. And what to do with feasting and celebrating in the midst of heaviness, right, I think that some, it can… if people perceive these traditions and these celebrations and these practices that we do to remind ourselves of the miracle of the Incarnation, they perceive it as something that Christians have to do, well then it becomes a burden, you know. And then it becomes this crushing weight on top of an already crushing circumstances for some. And yet if we start at Emmanuel, you know if we start with like, God with us in the midst of it, in the midst of covid, in the midst of maybe job loss, in the midst of sickness or family brokenness or addiction or depression or anxiety… I’m like, these are all things that are happening in my very near circles, you know, right now. And if we start at Emmanuel, then that frees us up to celebrate because we are celebrating the hope that came into the darkness. But if we start at the traditions, then aren’t we a sorry bunch? You know. Because now we are tired and weary and spending money we don’t have, to buy little ceramic houses because someone once did that and thought it was really cute, and instead now we’re fighting with our husband because we spent the money we should have spent on the Christmas Eve dinner on little silhouette houses. You know what I’m saying? Whereas if we are starting at Emmanuel, then we walk in freedom and we know that if we don’t get the tree up this year… I have a friend who’s moving because of a job situation because of covid, and they didn’t get a tree this year, you know. And that doesn’t change Emmanuel. You know, like, that doesn’t change God with us. And that doesn’t change Christ coming into our darkness. And so I would just want to emphasize… and that’s also where, there’s no disunity among Emmanuel either. Like there’s no bristling and offending one another about how we are celebrating Emmanuel if we start there. And so my encouragement would just be, before wanting to buy the ribbons or the candles or the wreaths or a certain book or anything, like, unless its the Bible – buy the Bible – come to that place of like embracing, receiving, and like celebrating the Incarnation that God came down in the midst of us and He became one of us. Because that is the only place we find our strength to face, and to then, to celebrate. Like that is where our hope lies, and the Enemy is the sneaky one, you know? And our flesh is too. And it’s like, you find so much protection from comparing, from coveting what how somebody else does it, from the guilt of feeling like oh I didn’t make my pie as good as my mom made – all of it goes away when we’re sitting, when the foundation for everything is Christ the Son of God, the Son of Man, come to rescue us. Because that, no one can take away, no one can rob us of. And again, then you can put whatever tradition you want on that, and to God be the glory, you know. But without it, it’s a heavy burden.

Melissa: amen. That’s encouragement, indeed! Let me tell you.

Anya: because we all get tired. [laughter] Oh I have one more thought that I think could be helpful. I was reading an article, or I don’t know if it was from a podcast, I don’t know. It may have even been years ago. But it was talking about the difference between unbiblical and nonbiblical. And this is a very practical piece after, you know, yeah. And how much of the tradition is nonbiblical – meaning, it’s not included in Scripture, right, like very different from the Passover. We’re told how the Jews were to celebrate the Passover. We’re not told if or how or when or any of the how we should do things to remember… beyond, obviously like Communion, you know, the Lord’s Supper and things like, you know we have those things. But when it comes to seasonal things, we don’t have anything. But just because it’s nonbiblical doesn’t make it unbiblical. And at the same time, some things are unbiblical, right? So something – there’s a difference in being against the Bible and not being part of the Bible. And so I think that in terms of that freedom of conscience, like informing somebody who’s like struggling with, well I don’t know, is this okay, is it not okay, I grew up with it, it was really sweet… you know, if it’s nonbiblical just because it’s not included, you know, the Bible also doesn’t tell us to brush our teeth, but I recommend it. [laughter] But there’s just, there’s a lot of things that we have the freedom to do and can do and it’s good to do. And then there’s things that we should not do. So I’ll give an example of something we should not do. Ah, like the magi followed a star, right? Why? Because they studied the stars and these days it’s really trendy… like astrology and horoscopes, and I’m like blown away at how that trend is like sweeping into the church, and I’m like, oh, um, what in the world. You know, like, how did we go from worshipping the Creator of the stars to looking to the stars for our hope or our whatever? And the moon and all this stuff, like, that’s unbiblical, because the Bible clearly states that we do not participate in astrology. Because that God chose to declare the birth of His Son in the heavens does not mean that we look to the heavens for our hope. We look to the Maker of the heavens. So that would be an unbiblical thing to do! Versus a nonbiblical, which there’s a gajillion examples of what that could look like. So I think just that practical side of distinguishing. And I would always say, never go against your conscience, you know, never ever ever. So even if somebody else feels free to do something and you don’t, then rest it there.

Melissa: I would bring this back to St. Athanasius who said about the Word of God in human being, “He was not bound to the body but rather was Himself wielding it so that He was both in it and in everything, and was outside everything and at rest in the Father alone. And the most wonderful thing was that He both sojourned as a human being and as the Word begot life in everything and as Son was with the Father.” Wielding the body, in it, in everything, He sojourned and yet begot life in everything… just going back to that mind-blowing reality and grateful that someone like Athanasius could put into words what I can barely begin to grasp and yet we can talk about it, we can laugh about it and cry about it, and find ways to glorify God in how we walk through the physicality and the daily things of celebrating and remembering that He did come, and looking forward to Him coming again. I think that just sort of, that sums it up! That wielding of the body.

Anya: yeah, it does. It acknowledges His deity and His humanity, which is where our hope… He needs them both or we are without hope. Hope that He was them both and so we are not without hope, you know? Thank you for this, Melissa. I’m just really encouraged and have loved discussing this with you.

Melissa: I’m just so glad that we were able to take the time to do it. So I’m grateful for the work you’re doing with the whole Paideia Southeast team. It fills my sails and it helps me to have encouragement for work here, even though you’re far away, it helps me where I am.

Anya: well, thanks for leading the way on that one. Because there would be no Paideia Southeast without a Paideia Northwest, that’s for sure.

Melissa: well, God has worked some great things and I’m excited to see how He continues to do it.

“Love’s Incarnate Birth” by Madeleine L’Engle

Observe and contemplate.
Make real. Bring to be.
Because we note the falling tree
The sound is truly heard.
Look! The sunrise! Wait —
It needs us to look, to see,
To hear, and speak the Word.

Observe and contemplate.
The cosmos and our little earth.
Observing, we affirm the worth
Of sun and stars and light unfurled.
So, let us, seeing, celebrate
The glory of Love’s incarnate birth
And sing its joy to all the world.

Observe and contemplate
Make real. Affirm. Say Yes,
And in this season sing and bless
Wind, ice, snow; rabbit and bird;
Comet and quark; things small and great.
Oh, observe and joyfully confess
The birth of Love’s most lovely Word.

Melissa: and that brings today’s conversation to a close. You can find more conversations on paideia at PaideiaNorthwest.com and PaideiaSoutheast.com for more resources and practical encouragement. Join me again next time for another paideia conversation, and in the meantime, peace be with you.

Paideia Conversations, Ep. 10

Paideia Southeast team member Anya Harrison joined Melissa Cummings from Paideia Northwest for a conversation which was born out of a discussion they had had about Incarnation after reading St. Athanasius’ book On The Incarnation. The difference between truth and tradition, and how one informs the other while the second can give us tangible means of practicing and pursuing the first… let’s just say, we got a bit tempted to be carried away. So this is Part One of the conversation, and you can find Part Two in Episode 11. We hope that you join with us in the wonder and discomfort of considering our God-made-flesh, while you are engaging in something real and fleshy. Maybe dishes or laundry, maybe baking cookies or wrapping gifts. Maybe rocking a baby or driving to pick up a teen. It all starts with John 1, where we consider the Word, the Lord of creation, putting on a human body in order to dwell among us. But that’s not the end of it… it’s so much bigger than that. Praise the Lord!

Resources Mentioned in this Episode

John 1:1-18

On the Incarnation by St. Athanasuis

Theo-Dox by Anya Harrison

Olive Tree Bible App

1 Corinthians 15:50-55

God Rest Ye Merry by Douglas Wilson

Episode Transcript

Melissa: joining me today for this paideia conversation is Anya Harrison from Paideia Southeast. We invite you to join us in this conversation about Incarnation, particularly during this season of Advent as we continue to practice, pursue, and implement paideia.

John 1:1-18
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made.  In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him. But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about Him, and cried out, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because He was before me.’”) For from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, He has made Him known.

Anya: hi!

Melissa: there we go, hi!

Anya: how are you?

Melissa: well. Yeah. I am like…

Anya: you are in your closet!

Melissa: I am, literally. Yeah. Welcome to my wardrobe!

Anya: I love it. [laughter]

Melissa: anyway, it’s nice to meet you.

Anya: I’m hoping… oh, you too! Finally! [laughter] Very nice to meet you.

Melissa: yeah! I love listening to what you share on Voxer because you are super real, super thoughtful, and I always come away from what you’ve said thinking hard. Which is a good thing.

Anya: mmm. Thank you. Thank you, I am glad it’s a good thing. I’ve had a lot of friends, I have a trend where many friends are like, I love talking with you cuz we always go very deep. And I’m thinking, huh, I suppose I just do that with all of my friends. And they just are prepared for, I don’t know, I maybe I just swim below the surface on a regular basis I think. So I’m looking forward to our discussion because it’s a topic that I wish was on the lips of all Christians at this time of year, you know?

Melissa: it’s Advent, right?

Anya: yes.

Melissa: and I have a whole collection of Advent devotionals, those kinds of things – and they do talk about Incarnation, they use that word – but, so, I’ve always… I kind of hate to admit this… I’ve always thought of Incarnation as an Advent and Christmas thing. Something to do with the birth of Christ. And it is, but it’s not only that. I think it’s this book On The Incarnation where Athanasius just – he opened up, I don’t know – my brain just kept going, whaaaaaaaat!

Anya: yeah.

Melissa: I never thought of so many of these things that he talks about. That Incarnation is not just the actual, the building up toward the nativity of Jesus.

Anya: right.

Melissa: it’s His entire life, the entire manifestation of God made flesh, which it started at the conception inside Mary, but then all the way until His death… and then, wait a second! It goes beyond that? [laughter]

Anya: yeah, yep.

Melissa: wait, is God still manifest in flesh? Like is Incarnation still a reality? I mean, yeah, it’s a huge, amazing realization for me.

Anya: yeah, sure.

Melissa: So Incarnation is so big! What… I want you to tell me all the things that you’ve thought about it. Everything! Would you just introduce yourself, tell us a little about you?

Anya: okay. My name is Anya Harrison, and my husband Topher and I have been married for almost seventeen years. We met in Bible college in Chicago, we moved down to South Florida, lived there for thirteen years. And down there we adopted our oldest, who is now thirty. And that was, well that was almost thirteen years ago now. And then we also have a ten year old son and a eight year old daughter, biological children, who I homeschool. This is our fourth year homeschooling. And we live in Georgia, we live out in the country. We are not from Georgia, so our family is either – our oldest daughter stayed in Florida when we moved, she’s an adult, and then our parents are up in like Michigan and Illinois. And my husband did not grow up in the church at all, he got saved, he was led to Christ by his public school baseball coach. And I was brought to church as a child, but I was always the extreme Christian of the family. Like, you know, let’s not go too far and want to be missionaries or go to Bible college or anything like that. [laughter] And so, it’s okay, I’m loved, I’m not like an outcast of my family, but I wasn’t necessarily raised with like a Christian culture or a Christian paideia. I went to public school, we went to church on Sundays – that was a non negotiable actually, but other than that… I taught myself how to read the Bible, my youth pastor taught me how to read the Bible, kind of thing… I wasn’t, there wasn’t much going on there. So obviously my husband and I have a very different approach with our kids, and we are figuring it out as we go because, which is kind of great because we have a fresh start. And everything that we think about implementing gets evaluated. You know? We don’t, we didn’t inherit anything that we have to then think, is this good or is this bad? Is this honoring to Christ or is this just something our family did? So in some ways, there, you know, we get a fresh start, a blank slate. So actually it was in Bible college when I obviously learned about Athanasius, I wasn’t raised with any of this background, and when I first read his book On The Incarnation as well as some others of his work… and like you said, Melissa, I was… it was just like a, like the walls blew off for me as far as… as far as Christmastime comes, as far as my understanding of Jesus, I… everything! It was so much bigger, it’s so much bigger. And it’s so much more offensive, I would add as well. There’s a lot in the Incarnation that you’re either gonna love or you’re gonna hate, you know? So.

Melissa: well, tell me first: what has been your latest project? I know I just ordered a copy of your latest project, and it’s almost on my doorstep! But I want you to tell me about it.

Anya: aw, did you really? Okay, so, it’s funny. The latest project – it’s taken me almost three years to do. But I created something called Theo-Dox, and it’s essentially like a living, a personal Bible index, where as you read the Bible and you come across verses that speak to a topic, you log it according to the topic so that you can find it later. And, you know, at first glance, the thought is, yeah but we have concordances and we have Bible dictionaries and we have reference Bibles… and yes, we do. Which means if you’re looking for the topic, you can find like proof texts. But as… for somebody who’s going to read their Bible their whole life, discovering a verse in the context of Scripture – it doesn’t always have the word that you’re gonna log it under. You know? So let’s say you’re reading through the gospels, and something is speaking to stewardship, right? It’s gonna say stewardship. Like, I don’t even know if the word stewardship is in the Bible, but that’s the topic. And so you can begin logging that, and then later as you’re raising your children, and you want to, you know, be like, where was that verse about, you know that I found about stewardship? Instead of paging through a million journals or sermon notes or in the little margins of your Bible, even a journaling Bible, you need to know where the reference is. So the idea is that it’s just like a guided index, personal journal log that you would build over the course of, honestly, over decades. Like, it was very much an item that I created because I wish I had it myself. And I’m always like, it would be really great if someone else would make this and I could just buy it from them. But alas, it was not on the market, so I made it and I have more similar concepts that I’m looking forward to kind of getting out into my own bookshelf. And then my view of stewardship, even of fruitfulness, is that I don’t know that I’ve really finished the job if God has given me something to do if it’s not blessing somebody beyond my walls. So ideally if I’m creating something, I try to make it something that’s shareable and reproducible.

Melissa: I love that!

Anya: and thanks for getting one!

Melissa: yeah! I’m excited. It’s, I think, if nothing else – I’m not really into new year’s resolutions, but I think, okay, maybe it will arrive around the new year, and I will just say this is what I’m doing with my Bible reading this year – is keeping this together. I just picked up my Olive Tree Bible App on my phone and put in “incarnation,” into the little search bar. “Incarnation” is not a word that’s in… at least, in this translation of the Bible, right? But does Scripture talk about Incarnation? Sure does! [laughter]

Anya: yep, yep!

Melissa: so there you go, there’s a case in point.

Anya: yeah, that’s exactly the same kind of thing. Yeah, and even Trinity. You know? Like, trinity – you’re not gonna find the word “trinity” in the Bible. And I think that’s… I originally wanted to create the tool for specifically for theological doctrine. Because I was taught doctrine through the creeds and then the verses that supported those creeds, but originally the creeds were built from Scripture. So I wanted to create a tool that could help Christians read the Bible and identify where these things are speaking of the identity of God, the identity of Christ. Then they could log it and then look at those verses and say, okay, in the whole, what is this saying about Jesus? It is saying Jesus is man. It is also saying Jesus is God. It is also saying the Holy Spirit is God, but the Holy Spirit is not the same as Jesus. So what does this tell us? You know? That they would then, whether they know the words incarnation, hyperstatic union, it’s kind of irrelevant. But that they would know who God is as He’s revealed Himself is the goal. And that was, that’s exactly, that’s a perfection example: “incarnation” is not in Scripture, but as you read, you’re gonna see Scripture making it very clear that Jesus was a man, and then His claims and the things that prove that He was not just a man, but also God, and then… you know, you gotta wrestle with that, you know? And that’s where I think the offense, I mean that’s where the offense comes in.

Melissa: so tell me. Tell me your thought on the disclaimer, the – okay, before we talk about this, before we get offensive [laughter]…

Anya: so, I… I actually… when we were kind of talking through discussing this and it being recorded and then played for people that neither of us may know personally, and may not follow up and say, what did you mean by that? it sounded like you said this… I was hesitant, because there is the… the true aspects of Who is Jesus, and I don’t, I don’t, I’m not hesitant about talking about that. But then there’s the side of, what does that look like in our home? Like, how do we teach that to our children? What sorts of things do we use? I love actually, I think it’s Rebekah Merkle who talks about incarnating the Gospel in our homes. Who do we incarnate the Incarnation? Right? What sorts of tangible activities, traditions, practices can we do as Christian parents… and even just as Christians in our own lives… to bring that to life? And those are two different things, right? There’s the doctrine that whether I was alive or not, these things are true. This is about God and this is about the world He created and what He has done in order to redeem it – those things I’ve got no hesitation on speaking of those things. I get nervous about the application side because it is the whole, the whole of it is really in the realm of freedom of conscience. And so something that I might feel free to practice, like say… I don’t even really have a manger scene, but it’s not our manger scene. I just don’t have one. I really want a pretty olive one from Bethlehem, and I don’t have one yet. Whereas I have friends who would never have a manger scene with a baby Jesus, because they… and I believe, very legitimately according to their conscience… believe it to be in violation of the second commandment. And so I would never encourage them to get one or tell them they should get one. And they would also understand that I’m working within my freedom of conscience. But I hesitate to mention things like that, or even Christmas trees, wreaths, anything evergreen right, has some pagan roots. Everything with… well, with… my kids are making gingerbread houses today. There is nothing Christian about gingerbread houses, you know? But, wow, we love making gingerbread houses! And what I would hate is if somebody caught on to… well, a couple, ditch on both side of the road. One ditch is, you hear the practical steps and you think, oh, if I can implement those steps, my children will grasp the Incarnation. Right? So there’s that ditch. And then there’s the other side of the ditch which is that I would actually cause unnecessary offense and division to a sincere sister in Christ who is walking according to her conscience and honoring the Lord in her choices, and me mentioning something is offensive to her and creates a disunity and a division among believers. Which is like such a grievous thing to me is when we are dividing over things within the freedom of conscience. And so that is my disclaimer, is that when we go from what is the Incarnation to how do we through family traditions and things like that observe it, practice it, remember it, acknowledge it… that all of those things have to be taken within a context. And the last thing I would want to do is divide over how someone may or may not choose to do that. Or when someone may or may not choose to do it. Because some don’t celebrate Advent – it’s a church calendar, that is a tradition! Advent is in the realm. What’s not is that Jesus Christ, Son of God, became flesh and came to earth to rescue us. So we all sit there. And from there, we then, you know, navigate how to practice it. But knowing the different, the distinction, I think is essential.

Melissa: yeah, that’s a beautiful way to put it actually. Sort of echoes the idea that we’ve talked about numerous times of principles versus methods. Truth versus traditions, maybe.

Anya: yeah. Sure.

Melissa: and a godly paideia can look many different ways. It can be implemented or practiced, as you said, in a multitude of different ways. It can be made manifest differently from family to family, which is beautiful. I love learning from other people. I was just chatting with someone yesterday who said even she and her husband don’t come to Advent on the same perspective. And so they’ve created what works for their family now, and it’s beautiful. And some of the things she was sharing with me about church calendar and how they view it, it’s not necessarily how I view it, but I loved the conversation and learning from her. It just, it blessed and it made me so excited to think, wow, they do it this way, I do it this other way, but we’re both – in that freedom of conscience – we are both seeking to honor the Lord and to bless our families. And so that’s just…

Anya: amen.

Melissa: it’s exactly what you’re talking about. I just had this conversation yesterday with someone!

Anya: and it’s, this should be a given among believers. You know. But I think keeping it at the forefront of the conversation helps protect the enemy from sowing those seeds of discord. Which is not, not glorifying to the Lord, and the opposite of His, you know, huge upper room discourse is like, let them be one. These are not to fight over. We are not gonna fight over Advent, Christmas trees, manger scenes, all these things. You know. That’s… what we’re gonna do is glorify the Son of God, who was also Son of Man, Son of David, all of it. And that’s, that is huge and big and big enough. You know.

Melissa: so when it comes to Athanasius… first of all, I love the name Athanasius. One of my babies has Athanasius as middle name. But the name Athanasius, the word – I don’t know how pronounce it in, you know, Greek – but, means immortal. And so I just immediately when I saw that Athanasius wrote on the Incarnation, talking about the immortal taking on mortality… what is that, 1 Corinthians 15 I think? I just immediately, I think, oh, how neat of God to put immortality and mortality on the heart of Athanasius. You know, names always have meaning, and I just kind of, I kind of love that. Tell me when you picked up On The Incarnation as a book, I guess, but also just the idea of incarnation as a whole… how has that struck you?

Anya: so when I… like you mentioned earlier when we were talking about Incarnation… Incarnation is obviously so much bigger than Christmastime. Which is why some who don’t observe Advent or the church calendar, you know, would say, why don’t we sing “Christmas hymns” all year long. Like O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. This is our cry as believers, you know? So the Incarnation, when Athanasius approaches it, he is talking so much more than just about Christmas. You know, he’s not just talking about the birth of Christ at all. In fact he spends very little on that. What he’s doing is making a case that the Word became flesh. Which for those of who believe in sola scriptura, that’s also non negotiable. Because we’re told that in John chapter one. And that’s where the word Incarnation comes from, right, is that the Word became flesh. And we know that the Word is the Son, we know that the Word is Christ, and he then goes throughout the book and makes a case for… he basically is answering objections of the Jews, he goes and answers objections of the Gentiles, and he’s making this case that you have to reckon with the reality of who Jesus was. Because He is not like any other, He’s not like any other human who has ever walked the earth. And you know… I’m not against happy birthday Jesus cakes at all… freedom of conscience, you know. But I, I’m like, every human has had a birthday. Having a birthday does not make somebody any unique… other than, yes, we, we like to acknowledge people on their birthdays. But December 25th wasn’t probably His birthday, I mean you’ve got a one out of 365 chance that it was, but quite possibly it wasn’t. And so is it a really… is Christmas about Jesus’ birth? Is the Incarnation about His birth or is it about His identity? Right? Which was His identity from, like you said, the moment the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary, from the moment that, you know, He was in Mary’s womb. And through, through today. Right. Through the crucifixion, through the resurrection, through the ascension. The Incarnation is all of that. And I think what’s interesting to me, and something that I come back to often, is the… the fact that God put on a body. That is something that, like… I almost get a little uneasy in my stomach when, when I think about that reality. Because we believe in one God, in one Creator, eternal. Right? Like, this is our confession as Christians. And yet we also confess that He wrapped Himself in flesh and walked about us as a human. I mean. If we thought Hercules was a weird story, right? Like that’s got nothing on this. [laughter] Nothing! Even when people talk about like, oh, don’t take away Santa from your kids. The magic of Santa! And I’m not gonna get into Saint Nicholas or Santa. Freedom of conscience. You go girl, like whatever you want to do. But can you get more amazing than the actual truth that the eternal God was willing to bind Himself into a human body? That is something that keeps me up at night. That is what Athanasius was fighting over. That is what they were fighting over in the creeds. Like, was there a time when Jesus, when the Son didn’t exist? No! Right? Or we would all be Jehovah’s Witnesses. No, there was never a time when He didn’t exist. Because He Himself is fully God and fully man. And again, it makes me a little uneasy in my stomach. Because this is why the Jews couldn’t, they couldn’t, because it’s… you all talk about the second commandment and not, you know, making a graven image… they’re saying God has a body. Right? Now we’re saying God has a body, and that’s it. And it’s offensive. Like, you have to wrestle with the Incarnation. You just have to. Non-believer, believer, or not, you have to wrestle with who Jesus was. And you know, this is a lovely time of year to do that.

Melissa: now, I know Athanasius… in the introduction of this book actually, it even mentions this… Athanasius was, let’s see, probably born in the latter half of the year 299. And so in the 4th century is when, you know, he lived and wrote and he accompanied Alexander as a young deacon to the Council of Nicaea, right? So the whole… that Council were there discussing and arguing over and taking offense at the deity of Jesus, right?

Anya: mhmm, oh yeah, with Arius. And Athanasius was kicked out, he lived in exile for years because they went with the other guys. You know. And he continued to say, no, like that is not according to the Scriptures. And I mean, he… talk about… I don’t know. Talk about a faithful father in the church who we owe a lot to. You know, like, he… he, I mean it’s also his Easter letter than is our canonization. Like our Old and New Testament books are from his Easter letter in three hundred, I don’t know, sixty or seventy something. Like Athanasius is a, he was right in the thick of it. And he didn’t get, there was no Spark Notes for Athanasius. Like there was just Scripture.

Melissa: right, right!

Anya: like no Bible reference books.

Melissa: I love in, again in the introduction, it says, “Athanasius expounds the central mystery of Christian theology, the Incarnation. But in a manner that embraces all aspects of God’s work from creation to re-creation.” And that right there, I mean it’s right there in the beginning before the actual treatise, right? Talking about the central mystery, and how it embraces all aspects. So there’s that mind-blowing… it’s not just about conception and the pregnancy and the birth, it’s not just that. It’s… yeah, what did you say? The… His… not His nature…

Anya: identity?

Melissa: identity, yeah. It’s His identity, yeah!

Anya: yeah, I have a friend who doesn’t celebrate anything of Advent and Christmas, a very sincere believer. And I asked her, I said, do you do anything to just make sure that you’re acknowledging and recognizing? Because I don’t think church calendar is necessary, you know, but I find it very helpful, and I love the church calendar. And I – I mentioned, I was like, I appreciate it because it… it re… it takes me through a lap every year on our key doctrines and our key confessions. And so this time of year I spend day after day after day dwelling and thinking on the implications of God becoming man, and a perfect Man at that, that He gave us a second Adam. Like it’s everything… like if, let’s say in the Theo-Dox tool, right, let’s say you were going to try to collect the verses on the Incarnation. Like, you would run out of room, hands down, you know, because every time we’re, we’re talking about Jesus’ identity, every time the deity of Christ is part of that, and His humanity of Christ. The fact that He could die at all. I don’t know what of Athanasius’ writings it’s in, but he has another writing where he makes a case about why… he gives this analogy, this is like a modern day paraphrase of it… where he talks about how God, Jesus had to be God. He had to be eternal, for if He wasn’t, obviously He, you know, He couldn’t die for the sins of everybody. If all He was was… and he used this analogy… I feel like it’s not a glass of water because it wouldn’t have been at that time in history, maybe a jug of water or something? But he talks about how like, let’s say that only a full and perfect, complete, and untainted glass of water is what’s allowed into heaven. And that glass of water represents somebody’s life. Meaning that not only is it untainted, it’s only pure water, they never did anything wrong, but they also never failed to do anything right that they were to do. Right, so you get a full glass of water. But if He is just another man, all He did was get His way into the presence of God. All He did is that He gets to go to heaven. Good for Him, you know. But here we all are with these dirty, muddy, half-filled messes in our cups, and like, Jesus doesn’t offer us any hope if He’s not God. Right? And if He’s not man He can’t die. So He has to be both or we are without hope. And so he gives this analogy of how the eternality of Christ is like the river of life which can flow into all of our muddy, dirty, nasty cups and fill it up with fresh water, that all of us… He has enough for everyone, you know. Because He lived the perfect life and He was eternal. And so none of us are left lacking in the righteousness of Christ that is imparted to us. But, but the implication of the Incarnation is in all things for us as Christians. You know. And so what a perfect way also to explain it to children. Like if we start there, then all of the following questions can be answered accordingly. You know, like if we haven’t established Jesus as God and Jesus as man, and that mystery, then the cross is another good man dying. Which is just not gonna offer much to us. It was a long time ago, you know.

Melissa: yeah, he says in here, “in no other way would the corruption of human beings be undone except simply by dying, yet being immortal and the Son of the Father, the Word was not able to die. For this reason, He takes to Himself…”

Anya: right. And to stay dead.

Melissa: right.
“For this reason, He takes to Himself a body capable of death in order that it participating in the Word who is above all might be sufficient for death on behalf of all.” And in the preface which is written by C.S. Lewis, at least in my edition, he says, “Him who is so full of life that when He wished to die He had to borrow death from others,” that idea of borrowing our death and taking on a body capable of death… it put words to the idea of Incarnation that I’d never thought of. That He couldn’t die. I never think of any part of the trinity as being incapable of anything, except maybe incapable of sin… which, sin and death, of course it’s the same, it’s connected. But the idea that, in order to be the sacrifice, He had to be able to die, and in order to be able to die He had to take on flesh. And so we who are made in the image and likeness of God… God then takes on the flesh of His own image-bearers… it’s just, it’s really some strong mental gymnastics.

Anya: it’s a… yes! It really is! And there’s a mystery left, hands down, even after we can successfully tumble our way across the mat and with it, wrestle with it, and this is still, it is still incredible. You know, it’s not… it’s not, outside of being granted faith, I don’t think it’s something anybody would come to. Nobody would believe that the Creator enters into creation in such a seemingly vulnerable way. But for the love of Christ, you know, for His people. Because that’s like, yeah… it, yeah… it makes me uneasy.

Melissa: the idea of Incarnation being so much more than just thinking of the beginning of His human life, the beginning of His human manifestation – how has that realization effected you personally?

Anya: the fact that He walked on this earth is where it all begins for me. I think I don’t, I truly don’t know where to begin my own identity as a Christian outside of the Word becoming flesh. Not that everyone else has to start there. That’s just, for me, one of those… like I always feel this time of year like I’m laying the foundation for what I’m going to be dwelling on in a few months, you know, during Lent and during, you know, Resurrection Sunday and Easter and all those things… and then the power, like as I move throughout the church calendar, the glory just increases, you know, like you’re just like, oh my word, it just never… but it’s connected at the same time. So for me, it’s like laying the foundation. In finding my identity in Christ, is first meditating on His identity according to the Scriptures.

Melissa: in Douglas Wilson’s book God Rest Ye Merry, he says, “what is the great mystery of godliness? What is the foundation of our salvation? God was manifest in the flesh. We sometimes do not appreciate the magnitude of the problem here. How could the eternal Word of the eternal Father take on limits? How can infinitude and finitude marry? The doctrine of the Incarnation proclaims frankly and without embarrassment the most stupendous miracle that can be imagined. Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail the Incarnate Deity. But we are dealing with mysteries and miracles, not contradictions.” But that’s exactly what you just were saying. What is the foundation of our salvation? That God was manifest in the flesh! Right there.

Anya: amen. That was far… it’s almost like we had discussed that beforehand. That is like, well said. Good job, Doug Wilson. [laughter] Yeah.

Melissa: and then, again later in the book he says, “we believe in the Incarnation in the Word made flesh. This is our glory, this is our salvation. He, the source of all life and all nourishment for that life, was willing to be breastfed.”

Anya: mhmm, and you know what, this is our distinctions as Christians too. Like, we may… we may have commonalities with other monotheists, and we may have commonalities with… I was actually talking with a Muslim woman who was trying to convince me that we worship the same God, and I was like, well I have a little issue with that, because, see, you guys believe that Jesus or Isa, was simply a prophet and that Mohammed was a great prophet. but I believe that Jesus is God. And she looked at me like, you believe what? Like she almost stepped back. She was like, oh no we don’t believe in the same God. I’m like, no we don’t. And it’s, it’s like, this is where our confession begins. This is where our distinction begins. This is where orthodoxy versus cult begins, you know. Like Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses, like, this is where we draw a line and we say, we can… we can disagree over Christmas trees, and we can disagree over church calendar, but we do not disagree over the identity of Jesus. And my… so that’s why I love this season as a time to proclaim it and to discuss it and to wrestle with it because it is… it is, it’s uncomfortable. It’s uncomfortable for me at least, like I… the fact that He did that is… it doesn’t… you can’t wrestle with that and go away unchanged. You know.

Melissa: so if you can’t go away from it unchanged, is there an identifiable time for you when you sort of realized this mystery, that it was such a mystery and incomprehensible? And did it change anything that you have practiced?

Anya: I think so actually, yeah. I mean, I think it’s progressive and it happens often and again and again in greater, you know, in greater layers and in a deeper way. But I… I think I can remember maybe seven or eight years ago… I wish I could say it was in Bible college when I was first taught the answers. But the truth was, I was so busy studying I’m not sure that I spent a lot of time meditating and dwelling on the truth of it. But I remember one Advent, thinking of the humanity of Jesus and what that meant, and going through the gospels and considering the reality that God walked among us. And the reality of Emmanuel. And how if God walked among us, first of all, the establishing of His love and His grace and His goodness. To go… to know there was no limit to what He was willing to do… realizing that freed me up, I don’t even know if realizing it is probably, you know, Christ in me overcoming selfishness in new ways, that freed me to realize that there is nothing that He could ask me to do on this earth that I would look back at Him and say, well that’s not fair. Like, why do I have to do that? You know, like it’s almost like it cuts so many strings for me to walk in obedience in that Christ walked in obedience. And, you know, speaking of the fact that Incarnation is not just about the nativity and you know, when I think about Jesus in the garden saying, take this cup from Me but not My will, Yours be done… I would often experience a lot of shame if I didn’t want to do something I knew God was asking me to do. But the freedom to realize that Jesus knew what He was heading into and He would’ve preferred not to, but greater than that, He chose to obey, and that empowers me to choose to obey and to not let the enemy cover me in shame over a… the fact that I know something’s gonna hurt and naturally I want to avoid that. You know? Like, His humanity was the greatest comfort to me, and I really do think… I’m to thirty-seven… maybe it was when I was pregnant with my son? and I was thinking about Mary and thinking about a baby and the vulnerability of that baby? I’m not, I don’t know, I can’t pinpoint the time. But I do remember, it’s almost like scales were coming off, and it was like I was seeing Jesus in just a completely human way without obviously losing any of His deity. Yeah. And now, well like, in the concept of Emmanuel… I was just telling a friend yesterday who was asking for prayer about something, and in that situation it’s so discouraging, you know. Like there’s nothing that I was gonna say circumstances to encourage her, but the good word of Emmanuel that she doesn’t walk through this alone, but that God is with her, and that He… He proved it by literally coming down into the world. This isn’t just a theoretical concept, you know? So I think that all of those, those things have begun to like breathe life into…

Melissa: what is your perspective… or the idea that Jesus took on human flesh for thirty-three years… and that’s… that’s not the end of it, right?

Anya: right, right.

Melissa: so how does what you’ve studied and loved about Incarnation inform…

Anya: post-resurrection?

Melissa: yeah!

Anya: I feel a little, this isn’t a… I hope I don’t misrepresent, you know. But what I will say is that Jesus’ resurrected body as the firstfruits of the rest of us is… see, I almost could start crying about the fact that He was willing to do all of this in eternity. Because sometimes I take comfort in thinking, you know, that He had to do it for thirty-three years but at least not forever. Because He’s saving us from hell and eternal suffering, and I take great comfort in the fact that He, His suffering was a time period on the cross. And I don’t know that I, I can’t answer for, with a lot of confidence as to what the limitations going onward… I believe that the identity of God includes omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence. And so the omnipresence part, if He is indeed God, then He’s, He is still omnipresent, and yet I am not an expert on all things. Like, and I just, it’s almost down like to a molecular level. Like I don’t know how that works. Like I don’t know how He walked through the walls. I don’t know how He did that. I have some friends who are science teachers who love to discuss these possibilities. Ah, it could have been this and this and this, and I’m like, yeah I’ve got nothing. But knowing that His resurrected body is the firstfruits of ours, is another, it’s just in mercy. It’s like mercy upon mercy upon mercy. He met us through all of it! And then He paved the way through all of it for us, you know? And we are no longer ever alone. Like we go from being the enemies of God to being called by Him, chosen by Him, predestined and sanctified and then glorified… and we are never ever again without Him! You know? Like, the church as His bride – clearly His love for His people is far greater than we can grasp. You know? Because why else? Why else would He do all of this? And there’s a lot, He did a lot!

Anya: even now He’s preparing a place, you know? Yeah, I don’t, I got… I won’t enter into speculation about the how the body part later. But I do think that this is something, even my daughter, my little eight year old yesterday was asking me, and she said something about how, well, I thought no one could look at God’s face and live, and how would people look at Jesus? And I was like, this is one of the issues for the Jews. You know, like, they… this is a big thing. Then we talked about the Father is different than the Son, and different than the Holy Spirit, and a lot of that was not fully unpacked. You know not that we don’t see it in Scripture in the Old Testament, but we have a lot more about that in the New Testament. And so without the New Testament Scriptures, understanding that dynamic – as if we’re ever gonna… I mean, it’s a mystery for sure – but even just the aspects of how do we make sense of these things which are true. Yeah, maybe, leaves me with more questions than answers.

Melissa: right?

Anya: yeah.

Melissa: mystery, mystery.

Anya: yeah… yeah.

Melissa: talking about the Incarnation and the way that it shapes all of life, not just the seasons of Advent and Christmastide is such a blessing. Anya and I just couldn’t get enough. So we’ve split up our conversation. Please join us again for the rest of the conversation next time where we will get to the practical. Truth and traditions? Well, next time we’ll talk a good bit about the traditions.
And that brings today’s conversation to a close. You can find more conversations on paideia at PaideiaNorthwest.com and PaideiaSoutheast.com for more resources and practical encouragement. Join me again next time for another paideia conversation, and in the meantime, peace be with you.

Paideia Conversations, Ep. 9

Have you taken the time to survey your children about things like truth vs. tradition when it comes to your family’s holiday observances? Specifically asking what they actually remember year by year? Have you ever giggled at their responses or given yourself a face-palm for what they say? Melissa from Paideia Northwest and Jenn from Paideia Southeast took a chance on their kids, and are happy to share this little insight with you! It is fun to hear what these seven kids had to say when asked about the meaning of Advent or the traditions & atmosphere in their homes during this season. Maybe this will inspire you to ask your children some similar questions and get the conversation going around your dinner table.

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Melissa and Jenn also then took the time to share with one another (and with you!) about some of their own favorite ways to cultivate a specific paideia in their own homes during Advent. Everyone pursues traditions (for marking of days or celebrating annual events or creating memories) differently from family to family, and we love to learn from one another as well as just pause to reflect on why we do what we do. Why do my kids love the Jello their grandmother makes? Why are Advent countdown calendars such a thrill? Why do we love getting presents? How do these tangible, practicable, experiential things point us toward Christ as we repeat them year over year?

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This isn’t about teaching anyone to do anything particular: rather, this episode is all about sensing the atmosphere in two homes (three thousand miles apart), and how these particular mamas seek to bring their children with them into the unnecessary-yet-completely-lovely practice of Advent. It is our hope that it will simply serve to inspire you to pursue a godly paideia with your own kids, think about your traditions, and maybe give you some new ideas or ring with familiarity.

What does Advent mean to your kids?
What are the favorite sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and experiences in your family during this season?
What traditions have you and your husband brought from your own childhoods, and how have your entwined those things into the tapestry of your own family culture?
If you have never practiced Advent, what one tradition would you want to try implementing in your home?

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Links to Resources

Arnold Ytreeide book series

Chocolate Advent calendars

Wooden Advent calendars

The Christmas Cookie Sprinkle Snitcher by Robert Kraus

Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree by Robert Barry

Raspberry Jello salad recipe

Mushroom Risotto recipe

Hallelujah by Cindy Rollins

Christmas Spirit by George Grant and Gregory Wilbur

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Episode Transcript

Melissa:

Jenn:

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Melissa:

Jenn:

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