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
Theo-Dox by Anya Harrison
1 Corinthians 15:50-55
God Rest Ye Merry by Douglas Wilson
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.
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.
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?
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!
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.
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…
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…
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.
“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: 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: 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.