Note: This post was created in partial fulfillment of an assignment for a course in theology.
“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth”
-John 1:14, NRSV
In the spring of 2009, I got laid off from my teaching job. In true public education fashion, we four budget casualties were given our pink slips during our planning times then sent back to our classrooms to serve our students while processing life-altering news. If you work in education, this surprises you not even a little bit.
When I finally got home that evening, I flung myself on the couch and ugly-sobbed. In that moment, I felt/saw/sensed Jesus sitting next to me, gazing into my snot-and-tear-stained face. “I know,” I felt him convey, “I get it. I’ve been human in this world. It’s so hard. I can’t take this from you, but I can be here with you.”
In that moment, I understood why the Incarnation matters. In theology, “the Incarnation” refers to Jesus. Christians believe that Jesus was God incarnate on earth. Jesus was fully God, God was fully present in human form in Jesus. This is also referred to as the hypostatic union, which I think sounds like a band name. I even asked social media what genre of music they thought “The Hypostatic Union” would be, scroll to the end of the post for that list.
The word hypostatic comes from the Greek hypostatis, meaning “entity” (if you heard the dad from “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” talking when you read that, you are my people). Christians believe that God the Father and Jesus the Son are two hypostases sharing one ousia, or being. This belief actually extends to all three persons of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. *crosses self* We’ll save pneumatology (theology about the Holy Spirit) for another day, however, today is about Christology (theology about Jesus).
How can God and Jesus be the same person and yet distinct? In meme language: If two, then how one?
History contains many attempts at answering that question:
Appolinaris of Laodicea (c.310-c.390) asserted that Jesus was a human whose spirit was swapped out for a Divine Spirit.
Eutyches (c.380-c.456) claimed that Jesus’s human spirit was “flattened” by the divine or that, when the two natures were mixed, the divine nature won out.
Nestorius’s (c.386-c.450) theory held that Jesus’s human and divine natures basically took turns running the show and that the discerning eye could tell which was which in the Gospel accounts. Hungry or thirsty Jesus? Human nature. Healing lepers and driving out demons Jesus? Divine nature.
The Arian party believed that Jesus was like God, but was not actually God.
Adoptionism holds that Jesus was fully human but was so goshdarned good at being good that God “adopted” him as God’s own son.
All of these theories gained enough traction that not only are they preserved in the annals of history, the councils of Nicea, Constantinople, and Chalcedon were all convened to interrogate Scripture, seek God, and draft official responses to them. TL;DR: You’re all a bunch of heretics, God the Father and Jesus the Son are one and the same—plus add in the Holy Spirit. How, precisely? Because God. Beyond our understanding. For details see our Nicene Creed and Chalcedonian Formula.
Our Christology matters. How we think and speak about Jesus, his identity, and his union with the Father matters. When I think about my experience on my couch that desolate day, the fact that the personal Jesus was one and the same with the Creator and Ruler of the entire universe was absolutely everything. Any of the explanations listed above would not have cut the mustard.
My human brain (and pride) wants to be able to tell others, “OK, so here’s how it works.” And I think it’s ok to meditate on that question and keep coming back to it. The “heretical” theories on the Incarnation actually propelled theology forward, forcing Christians of the time to interrogate Scripture and seek God on the matter.
However, “Si comprendis non est Deus,” says Augustine. If you can wrap your brain around it, it’s not God.
Faith in God means trusting that God is who God says God is, which in this case means that he walked among us, fully human, experiencing the same real things of life that we do. What a tangible gift of love to us in our darkest, hardest, grittiest, life-iest moments. Also, if you don’t already know the rest of the story that started this post, they reinstated each and every teaching job before the beginning of the next school year and I went on to teach three more years before I left to stay home with the kids. 🙂
To conclude, I asked Facebook and Instagram the following question:
“If ‘The Hypostatic Union’ was a band or musical artist, what genre would it be?”
Here were the answers:
“Reminds me of a Spanish rock band named ‘La Union'”
“Electronic type from the 90’s like EMF”
“Remember Blessid Union of Souls? Makes me think of that”
“EDM electronic music of Pink Floyd-ish”
“Earth Wind and Fire and a dash of Lenny Kravitz”
“Whatever kind of music Depeche Mode is”
“Hypostatic Union is a husband and wife duo that does EDM, trance, and klezmer” (apparently Klezmer is Jewish folk music, which is super meta for this context)
“Sounds like Greek Grunge” (that contribution from my Father, bless his heart)
“Hypostatic union sounds like what happens to my clothes in the dryer when I don’t use bounce. They are in union hypostaticly”
“Definitely Elevator Soothing Tones” (from the husband of an Episcopal Priest)
As for me, I’m thinking either 70’s funk like Parliament Funkadelic or an Indie/folk collective like the Polyphonic Spree…