The Scandal of the Particular
“Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father?’” (John 14:8–10 NIV)
One thought about Advent (which in part is the celebration of the incarnation) that has been lost on many Christians is the idea that God becoming flesh is absolutely scandalous. One Jewish leader that I frequently read said that the thought of God becoming a human being is the most profane idea to a Jew. You see a similar idea in Islam when it comes to making images depicting Muhammad. Many Muslims believe that when an image is made there is a chance it could turn into idolatry, where the image becomes more important than what it represents. For many people, including Jews, Muslims, Unitarians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Atheists, the incarnation is the real stumbling block in Christianity. And this is why the incarnation, which we celebrate during Advent, can be called “The Scandal of the Particular.”
It is scandalous that God would be born of a woman, in a particular place at a particular time and given a particular name. Not only do Christians believe that all of this happened, but we also believe that he was born of a ordinary woman, in a not so appealing place and given a not so uncommon name, Jeshua. So there is a population of people that cringe when Paul says, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” (Colossians 1:15)
Even within Christianity there are people who believe that depicting Christ as a particular person through artistic mediums is a form of idolatry. J.I. Packer, a notable Christian author and leader, presents a strong argument against using images to portray God by using Scripture to back his position. But I am one that believes that it is in the particular that we can get a glimpse of that which is eternal. While J.I. Packer and others have a point when it comes to idolatry, I believe they miss the point that beauty always stirs our affections towards the Divine. Madeleine L’Engle takes a different approach when it comes to this subject. She says, “In a way both miss the point which the Eastern Orthodox artists are taught when they study the painting of icons. The figure on the icon is not meant to represent literally what Peter or John or any of the apostles looked like, nor what Mary looked like, nor the child, Jesus. But, the orthodox painter feels, Jesus of Nazareth did not walk around Galilee faceless.”
L’Engle goes on to say, “God is constantly creating, in us, through us, with us, and to co-create with God is our human calling.” That is why we have incorporated art into our celebration of Advent at Harris Creek. It is in the works created by members of our church that we get another image, a different vantage point, and new symbols that helps us understand God. In short, we are using particular art forms with particular colors on particular canvasses by particular artists to celebrate a particular event in history, the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. And our hope is that these works of art bring some form of new worship for you this Christmas season as you celebrate The Scandal of the Particular with us.