Wiping the King of the Universe’s Bottom
Every year, thousands of words are written about what the incarnation means for us but comparatively few on what it might have meant for God.
A new, physical vulnerability. From the very beginning, Jesus had to rely entirely on his parents for everything – nappy changes, food, clothing, shelter – all of this is a very marked difference for the creator of everything, a being unbound by the space and time he had created, finding himself tightly wrapped in bandages. Jesus found himself prone to hunger, tiredness and disease (although, whilst there’s no record of Jesus being ill and his treatment of people suffering from infectious diseases showed that illness was not something he feared), and eventually being murdered by occupying forces at the behest of the religious leaders who thought they were doing his work.
A newfound ignorance. By the end of his ministry, Jesus knew that he was God – “I and the Father are one.” But, had he always known or was it something he gradually came to realise over the years? (Perhaps beginning with the voice from heaven at his baptism.) I like to think that, despite the best of efforts of his parents to raise him as a normal child, there would have been occasional moments where a certain otherness began to make itself known – such as the time after a visit to the Temple when, his parents unaware, Jesus remained behind talking over weighty matters with the teachers of the law – he seems to have taken it in his stride “Where else would I be?” (a polite, first century, “Well, duh?!”) I wonder when Mary and Joseph first told Jesus about the strangeness surrounding his birth, the visitors, the gifts, the words of wise, old Simeon and Anna following his presentation at the Temple, the angels, and the dreams – and how often they’d talk it over, trying to make sense of it all.
A new set of relationships. We believe that God exists already in relationship amongst the three persons of the trinity – from that perfection to ‘normal’ human relationships with their pettiness, squabbling & jealousy. Again, having parents to look after and nurture him (previously having been the one who set up the universe and kept it running). We imagine he must have made friends as a child, the Bible says he had sisters and brothers and we know he considered his disciples to be friends, even knowing that they would desert him.
Newly subject to law. From the very start of the gospels, the presence of the earthly powers was part of the story, with the census taking the Holy Family back to Joseph’s ancestral home. They continued to feature heavily in the gospels, culminating in the “Judge of all the Earth” submitting to the whims and judgements of petty tyrants and going to his death knowing that “all power in heaven and earth” had been given to him.
It has been said that all stories end in death if you follow them long enough but that’s not the case here – after the death, resurrection and, after that, the Ascension, when all this and more went back into the Godhead in a startling reverse of the incarnation – God to man and back again.