I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Christmas than to start an argument by attacking one of our favorite Christmas hymns.
“Hark the Herald Angels Sing” has that one line “veiled in flesh the Godhead see,” and I just thought it would be fun to nitpick that bit. I don’t know what Wesley had in mind when he wrote these words, but I wonder if they display an unwitting gnosticism.
Taken at face value they seem to suggest that Christ’s divinity was hidden when He took on flesh. But is that the case? Granted, Philippians 2:5ff suggest that in the incarnation there was some type of emptying of Christ’s divine prerogatives. No matter what your perspective is on the exegesis of that passage there is nothing to suggest that the taking on of human flesh is what caused this.
Further, John 1:14 suggests that the taking on of human flesh was a revelation of God’s glory, not a “hiding” or “veiling” of it. I’m not accusing Wesley of any particular agenda here but I do think it illustrates the natural pull of gnosticism. Gnosticism prefers the spiritual to the material and we are so accustomed to associating “flesh” with sin that it may have seemed quite reasonable to associate “en-flesh-ment” with veiling of the Godhead. Certainly Wesley knew better to associate incarnation with sin, but maybe it was natural to associate it with veiling.
Also, simply in the hopes that I can draw John Mark Reynolds into this discussion I’d like to bring up Plato (in case you haven’t heard, it is well know that John Mark carries Plato in his backpocket). Could there be some sense in which Wesley unconsciously (of course by using that word it looks like I’m trying to bring Freud into the discussion, I am not sure which of our Evangel bloggers carries Freud in their backpocket) assumed that prior to the incarnation Christ existed in some more perfect “form” of deity that was diminished when he entered our world of “shadows.” I do realize I am setting myself up for a platonic beatdown, I’ve had two classes in philosophy and I’m acting like some kind of authority on Plato here.
Still, I wonder if this illustrates how we devalue the goodness of the physical, material world in which we live, and maybe it diminishes our celebration of Christmas. The Christian response to the secularization of Christmas often seems to be a religious sentimentalization of Christmas where we “celebrate” the baby Jesus in all His cuteness and warm-fuzziness. But the incarnation was for much more than creating warm sentiments. Christ took on a body and suffered in the body for sins committed (by us) in the body to redeem our souls and bodies and give us a hope for a bodily resurrection. It doesn’t sound like He was hiding anything by taking on human flesh.
Of course I could just be making a big deal about nothing.