In the thought provoking (and action-packed) movie Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ultron (played marvelously by James Spader) is created to save humanity. But his idea of saving humans is to exterminate us. If he can destroy us, then we can be saved from ourselves.
Here’s Ultron’s Plan: “I know you’re good people. I know you mean well. But you just didn’t think it through. There is only one path to peace… your extinction.”
Ultron is an incarnation of artificial intelligence. He sees all of our human failings, wars, suffering. And for this humanoid robot, the way to save us is to destroy our humanity. Only then can we be evolved into a different, better kind of being.
And sometimes we tell the Christian story as if God thinks like Ultron. He has to kill or destroy our humanness, so he can change us into something different than a human being. But, no. God is doing quite the opposite.
The Incarnation of Jesus, which brought together the human and the divine, is not just a side effect of some other initiative of God. It is the capstone of God’s whole work in the world from the beginning. God is joining heaven and earth together.
Jesus felt what we feel, he experienced what we experience. He got tired, and was hungry and thirsty. He thought thoughts, he felt emotions, he was troubled at times, he wept and mourned. He did this to join heaven and earth, and to heal us as humans. Gregory of Nazianzus wrote, “That which he has not assumed he has not healed.” He assumed all of our humanness to heal all of it.
In the Revelation, John sees heaven come down to earth, and they are joined together.
N.T. Wright tells us that this joining is “the ultimate rejection…of every worldview that sees the final goal as the separation of the world from God, of the physical world from the spiritual, of earth from heaven. It is the final answer to the Lord’s prayer, that God’s kingdom will come on earth as in heaven.” Surprised by Hope, 104.
This is what God has been up to from the beginning. God is not separating the divine and the human. He is joining them together. He is reconciling God and people. He is not building a bridge to heaven so that we might escape earth, he is bringing heaven to earth. At the end of the story of the Bible there is a great Marriage supper. We, the Bride of Christ, are joined fully together with him in union.
That’s why God became a man. A human being.
The fact that Jesus was a human tells us a lot about our own humanity, and its value. In the book of Hebrews we learn that Jesus experienced life and temptation as we do, yet was “without sin.” Being without sin means being love. It means not participating in the self-destructive and other-consuming system that we humans have created. The fact that Jesus was human, but did’t sin doesn’t just show us that Jesus had a clean record. It shows us something else, something about our own humanity.
It shows us that sin is not an essential part of humanity. Jesus was fully human, but had no sin. He didn’t need sin to be human. Sin is alien to our essence as human beings. In other words, our sin nature is a disease that has affected every part of us, but it is not us. We can be healed, and redeemed – meaning that when we are cured from our sin someday, we will remain fully human.
Now in this life, we are so used to the brokenness of sin and the fall that we begin to believe that it is an eternal part of us. But Jesus is redeeming us and changing our world with that reality in mind. He is redeeming you now, within this fallen world, as a human being among the family of human beings.
And he doesn’t plan to destroy our humanity. Quite the opposite.
Unfortunately, we as the church have so often unintentionally pictured our human-ness as the problem. We have sometimes painted the arts as the enemy or the sciences as a threat. We have often made people think that emotion and passion needs to be suppressed or that our minds should be shut down.
But that’s not what Jesus is up to. He isn’t taking away our personality. He doesn’t desire to stop up our passions and emotions, and to dull our minds. Instead, he is renewing our minds, re-directing our passions, re-connecting our relationships, and will even resurrect our bodies. He is re-centering us in love. He is reforming us as the individual and communal human beings we were created to be.
God is love. He made us to love him and to love one another. He is re-focusing our lives not just to “correct’ our errors or to demand perfection. He is re-orienting us to love. This is true humanity.
It is a good thing to be a human being, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” (Psalm 139:14 ESV)
The problem is not being human. The problem in this world is that we have misdirected and distorted our human passions. But the passions themselves aren’t the problem. Jesus very incarnation as a human being, yet without sin, shows us that it is not our humanity he is conquering, it is our sin.
We see a baby in the manger, and we are not afraid of God anymore because he appears in weakness. We see the Teacher, and we see that finally we straying and lost sheep have a shepherd to guide us. We see the man on the cross, in pain and sorrow and God is revealed in our own suffering and pain. And we see the resurrected Jesus eating breakfast with his disciples and we see God welcoming us to eat at his table. And we hear him speak to our hearts, and call us to be human, and to love.
Our churches, our families, and each of us as individuals needs to come back to this incarnational theology. We need to help our neighbors, family, and friends see that Christian Faith celebrates humanness. We aren’t anti-human. We aren’t anti-earth. Our savior is a human, a human who is also God. He is redeeming our world.
We are tempted to emphasize only the divine nature of Christ. But when we do so the exclusion of his humanity, we are unintentionally sending a message that God doesn’t want to touch us, or mix with us, or reconcile us. We may even have the impression that God hates us.
But no, God loves the world so much that he gave his only Son. That’s the Christian God.
So lets keep the incarnation and humanness of Jesus front and center, and not just at Christmas. Each and every time we celebrate Jesus’ humanness, we are telling ourselves and others that God loves us, humans.