We believe the Holy Spirit “overshadowed” Mary and, through her, God took flesh in Jesus of Nazareth. That’s our claim at Christmas. As St Athanasius put it, God became what we are so that we might become like God.
God became what we are. In all its dirty, unpleasant particularity. Jesus was fully human, as the Nicene Creed says. Not mostly human. Not pretty much human with all the crappy, embarrassing or difficult parts left out.
Most often we use words like incarnation or we talk about ‘God taking flesh’ without getting down to specifics about what that entailed or included. It’s like when it comes to the incarnation, there’s a subconscious part of us that screams: ‘Stop: TMI!’
The Gnostics, early Christian heretics, were the first to get squeamish about the implications of incarnation. The idea of God taking up residence in a human body just seemed unseemly once they stopped to consider all the dirty little goings on in their bodies during the average day.
Unseemly or not, the Church has always stood against Gnosticism and the various other heresies that have wanted to put an asterisk after that part of the creed ‘and became truly human.’
Like it or not, in Jesus God had a body just like yours.
Jesus may have been without sin, but he wasn’t without boogers. Jesus not only wept, you can bet he wiped his bum. There aren’t any Carols about it (future undertaking?) but part of what we’re professing at Christmas is that Mary’s boy (aka: Lord of Hosts) grew up to spit, poop and fart. He had moles on his skin, dirt on his feet and underneath his fingernails, and a smell that I’m sure his mom could recognize on his clothes. Contrary to Dan Brown, I don’t think Jesus had a thing with Mary Magdalene, but since he was fully human, you can be sure he didn’t escape puberty without everything that entails.
In a sense then, such things as farting are profoundly powerful theological expressions, for they convey God’s absolute solidarity with us in the incarnation. Just as water signifies the invisible grace of our justification and just as wine and broken bread signify Christ’s atoning work, so too is farting a sort of olifactory sacrament, signifying God’s absolute identification with us, TMI and all, in the incarnation.
As I tell my wife, ‘it may smell bad and be immature-according to your bourgeoise, Victorian, elitist standards- but what I smell…is the totality of salvation.’
Problem is, my wife doesn’t like it. The farting.
And that’s a problem.
Because, after all, my love for her is also supposed to be a sacrament, a visible sign of how God loves us.
And- okay it’s a bad analogy- just as Christ gave up his life out of his love for us, so too should I be willing to freely give up what I so frequently squeak out. Out of our love for her.
So this Lenten season, while other believers give up chocolate, porn, meat or drinking, I will be doing my ascetic best to give up farting.
I don’t want to puncture any images of holiness, decorum and perfection you might already have associated with me, but I’m not exaggerating when I say that I think Jesus probably had it easier in the wilderness than I will over the next 40 days.