|Posted by St. Alban's Episcopal Church on December 22, 2021 at 4:50 PM|
“…contingency is the only way toward knowledge of God, and, contingency, for Christians, is the essence of incarnation.”
My Bright Abyss, Christian Wiman
Christmas is about incarnation: we believe that with the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, God became human. Christians have spent centuries trying to comprehend and explain this core tenet of our faith. Ultimately, all attempts to do so fall short, because the incarnation is a holy mystery that cannot be fully understood or explained.
In his book, My Bright Abyss, Christian Wiman offers what I think is an interesting, if slightly unsettling, way of thinking about incarnation. He asserts that “contingency…is the essence of incarnation”. In other words, despite what we might prefer, the incarnation, God becoming human, does not magically bring an end to the uncertainties of life. Rather, it brings God’s transforming presence fully into the contingency of the human condition.
“All of human life is uncertain. I suppose to think of God in these terms might seem for some people deeply troubling (not to mention heretical), but I find it a comfort. It is akin to the notion of God entering and understanding – or understanding that there could be no understanding – human suffering. If Christianity is going to mean anything at all for us now, then the humanity of God cannot be a half measure. He can’t float over the chaos of pain and particles in which we’re all mired, and we can’t think of him gliding among our ancestors like some shiny, sinless superhero…No, God is given over to matter, the ultimate Uncertainty Principle. There’s no release from reality, no “outside” or “beyond” from which some transforming touch might come. But what a relief it can be to befriend contingency, to meet God right here in the havoc of chance, to feel enduring love like a stroke of pure luck.” (My Bright Abyss, p. 17)
The last two years (nearly) have given us a painful reminder of the contingency inherent in the human condition. If you’re like me, you could do with a healthy dose of certainty right now! The Omicron variant, however, has brought yet another layer of uncertainty. In this context, I am grateful for Wiman’s framing of the incarnation. We’d rather not celebrate another Christmas impacted by the pandemic, but it’s where we are. I’d like to think, as Wiman suggests, that even in our current context we can indeed “befriend contingency” and “meet God right here in the havoc of chance” and “feel enduring love like a stroke of pure luck.”
Yours in Christ,