At this time of year, most mainline Christian denominations are moving through the season of Advent and into the season of….Incarnation. You thought I was going to say Christmas, didn’t you? Well, ‘Christmas’ more effectively describes the commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ, while it is ‘Incarnation’ that is the whole point. Children are born all the time but, for Christians, God became ‘incarnate’ only once. As we move into this season then, I am forced to reflect upon recent events in our country and how themes of incarnation have arisen again and again.
On October 22, Cpl Nathan Cirillo was fatally shot at our National War Memorial. A little over two weeks later, the Chaplain General to the Canadian Armed Forces, BGen Padre John Fletcher, spoke these words at that same memorial on Remembrance Day.
Faithful and gracious God, we gather, today, with our emotions still raw: from the shocking attacks so recently witnessed in St. Jean, and in our nation's capital; from the violence that transformed this national memorial to military sacrifice into a place of military sacrifice; …a place where an unknown soldier, and a soldier now-known to us all, lay side-by-side, in death, having each accepted, to bravely stand on guard for our nation, and for its values, rights, and freedoms.
On October 22, the place meant to remind us of the sacrifice of all who are called to serve, became a place of sacrifice. This is the essence of incarnation.
In its rawest definition, ‘incarnation’ is the act of ‘in-fleshing’ or ‘fleshing out’ of an idea, a spirit, or an ideal. Another closely related word is ‘investing’ which is derived from the ancient practice of adorning one’s clothing with symbols of one’s office, authority, or the sources of one’s wealth. A ruler is invested with a crown, symbolizing their leadership of a nation/people. Doctors, lawyers, and police throughout the ages have invested in uniforms as a sign of their profession and authority. There is, in this investing, an incarnation of powers, authorities, and ideals.
Soon after the tragic events of October, members of our Canadian Armed Forces were ordered to lower their public visibility by reducing the places where we could wear our uniforms. The purpose of this order was clear and its intent a good one – public safety. Unfortunately, the timing could not have been more…painful. In the weeks leading up to Remembrance Day, during a year when we are commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the First World War, and after the murder of two of our own on Canadian soil, as poppies bloomed around the country in record numbers, those of us who wear “the uniform” felt a keen desire to show our ‘vestments’ more proudly than ever.
But it is not about us, it never is – it is not supposed to be.
We serve, not ourselves, but our country, by the grace of God. Regardless of our religious stripe, we wear our uniforms as symbols of that call to serve. We may be flawed and imperfect, but the ideals we stand for are not. We make these ideals incarnate. At this time of year, when Christians celebrate the perfect incarnation of God in Christ, we are also called to remember that each of us, regardless of our ‘vestments,’ is meant to flesh out the ideals which we hold most dear.
On the Mystery of the Incarnation
It’s when we face for a moment
the worst our kind can do, and shudder to know
the taint in our own selves, that awe
cracks the mind’s shell and enters the heart:
not to a flower, not to a dolphin,
to no innocent form
but to this creature vainly sure
it and no other is god-like, God
(out of compassion for our ugly
failure to evolve) entrusts,
as guest, as brother,
- Denise Levertov