Creativity Fueled By The Incarnation
Creativity fueled by the incarnation is life-giving. There is no other story that offers us such hope and promise amidst the sorrow and challenges facing our world. Incarnation is the word used to describe the birth of Jesus Christ, when he literally became a man, or “became flesh” as the Gospel of John states it.
The heart needs hope, and the imagination requires inspiration. The incarnation provides both, and if we take the time to marinate our imagination in the reality of the incarnation, we will find a renewed creative life. The incarnation reminds us God can take anything and anyone, and redeem it. As Madeleine L’Engle said,
“There is nothing so secular that it cannot be sacred, and that is one of the deepest messages of the Incarnation.”
Remember, God was not content to give us stories and to remain apart from us. He found a way to connect, to live and breathe among us, and to become part of our human experience. The idea God would deign to visit someone like you or me is hard to grasp. Yet, if God has an imagination, then Christ in human form is the ultimate expression of that imagination.
If we looked at Jesus Christ as a work of art, and the fruit of God’s imagination, we might see him as live performance art (storyteller, healer, teacher, and resurrection artist) or mixed media (dirt breathed into by the creator). Though he tests the boundaries of most artistic classifications, he is a work of art. He is a living, breathing work of art.
Creativity fueled by the incarnation brings us life and joy. There are several reasons why I believe it is good, just, and appropriate to refer to Christ as a work of art. Just as artists desire to express themselves in a poignant and manner, Christ himself is the most poignant expression of the reality of God’s truth and love. He is not simply the best expression of God’s love, but also the fulfillment of countless laws, symbols, characters, and stories. (Col. 2:17; Heb. 8:5; 10:1). We ought to note that Christ is described by Paul as being the very Image, or Icon (εἰκών ) of God (Col. 1:15).
Though many western Christian traditions have missed this linguistic note, our eastern brothers and sisters are right at home with seeing Christ as the image and icon of God the Father. And, once we begin to see this fact, we understand more fully what is meant when we read that the process of becoming holy is becoming ‘Christ-like.’ Naturally, this is described as being, “conformed to the image of His Son”(Rom. 8:29).
Christ as Artwork
Though many conservative Christians may wince at referring to Christ as artwork, it never bothered God himself; for we see the scriptures find no such aversion. Gospel writers did not possess the low view of art which many 21st century Christians have. Art was commanded by God when the Israelites fled from Egypt, and God chose an artist to be the first man in the Bible who is described as being “filled with the Spirit of God”(Ex 31).
To a religious Jew, artwork would have a clear connection with worship, and symbols would be seen as a visible means for pointing to the invisible. Christ fit this model, and as such was compared to an icon or image of the Invisible God. Though these biblical symbols and artifacts were found in the temple and in the tabernacle, they were always imperfect. However, that was never a reason to belittle, or reject art as a legitimate vehicle for truth.
When Rembrandt painted, his view of God often appeared in his paintings. And Bach composed and his concepts of God often appeared in his symphony. When God himself became man, his nature appeared in the form of a man.
The Incarnation: Misunderstood
Just as artists seek to give a visual expression of the ideas and concepts within their mind, so Christ is the expression of God’s mind and heart for us. But like much great art, Christ himself was misunderstood, attacked, rejected by the religious, and embraced by very few. He did not look like the king Jews or Greeks expected. Like many other great works of art, Christ himself was an enigma. In fact, the incarnation is probably the best archetype we have for transformational art. His life changed the course of history forever, and is still causing controversy today.
He refused to fit the expectations of the masses. However, His life and love were shocking not because they were unconventional, but because they were authentic and true in a way that makes impure humanity shudder with shame. His life was so radically authentic and pure in it’s ‘truth-telling’ that it continues to make people uncomfortable.
The truth itself was shocking art. That God would become a baby, and become helpless in a mother’s arms, is ‘unbelievable’. That he would later submit to death on a cross for fools and idiots we call men and women . . . shocking! If our hearts believed for even a moment that such a radical love was demonstrated on our behalf we would either faint, or leap with joy.
Incarnation: A Way Forward
So how do we become more like the image of Christ? It only happens by becoming a masterpiece in the hands of The Great Artist. Just as Christ is the very image of God, we are also described as being the craftsmanship (poiema -ποίημα) of God (Eph 2:10). He is molding us and shaping us as he develops our gifts, our character, and our own very lives. To be an artist is do something which is very near to God’s own character. To use our imagination to create something which communicates truths to others is absolutely part of the Image of God placed within the design of men and women.
If we simply pause and think, it becomes clear our imagination has always been part of the picture. Through the stories in the Bible we are able to ‘see’ what it looks like to have faith, hope, and love. Stories of shepherd boys defeating giants, redemption of an entire nation, and countless parables, our imagination is stocked with pictures of the “kingdom of God”. Anyone who has gone to Sunday School cannot forget the images in their mind of Abraham about to sacrifice Isaac, the tragic slaughter of baby boys as King Herod sought to kill the infant Jesus, and the beauty of Eden and the New Jerusalem.
If one does not believe God to be creative, they are not paying attention. If our creativity is fueled by the incarnation it is because the incarnation demonstrates the creativity of God. To see a world which is home to buffaloes, giraffes, narwhals, and platypuses and believe the one who made them is uncreative is preposterous. To think God’s story of redeeming us would not exhibit the twists and turns of a great screenwriter also demonstrates a misunderstanding of who God is.
God is Not Distant
Though some think God is distant or uncaring, I think they simply lack a greater imagination. God was never content to remain distant from His people. His fellowship with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden was always his desire. However, the entrance of sin awakened a tremor which destroyed the purity of our relationship with God. God is pure and true, and cannot exist in true unfiltered fellowship with anything which is unjust or untrue. Yet even in the Garden God spoke of a way to restore this fellowship. He spoke of one who would one day “crush the serpent’s head”, and bring reconciliation.
This took great creative imagination. Through the challenges of seemingly immovable obstacles, and unstoppable foes, God created a way for us to once again find peace in a relationship with Him.
He made his words on the page come alive in the historical figure of Jesus Christ, so that he might die for our sins, and give us life. A paradox which astounds people even today. For some, it is the scent of a flower they have longed for and delivers a freedom they had not thought possible. For others, it remains a mystery hidden from their eyes.
Incarnational Hope Today
As you begin this Christmas season, take time to consider the creativity of God, and see his work as your inspiration. Creativity fueled by the incarnation is the life-giving and joyful creativity you long for. God did not send Christ into the world for you to remain uninspired or ungrateful. God sent Christ into the world to bring joy to the world, hope to the lost, and inspiration to all who trust in him. It is not some vapid inspiration like a Disney movie that simply says, “Just Believe”, without any substance or promise. No, this inspiration is anchored in the love of God, demonstrated in the incarnation of Jesus. It is inspiration you can trust and count on, day after day, year after year.
This year, when the craziness of the holidays wears you down, stop to think about how the incarnation brings us joy and hope. Be encouraged that God loves you, and has gone to great lengths to demonstrate that love. Then take time to create, knowing that creativity fueled by the incarnation will be life-giving. Your creativity is a gift of God, while at the same time being an expression of the Imago Dei within you. He is with you, rejoicing over you using the gifts He has given you.
Copyright © 2019 Joel & Michelle Pelsue. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.