It’s Christmastime (in case you haven’t noticed.) This is the time of the year when we celebrate the incarnation of Jesus. It occurred to me how we Christians have a tendency to “pick a side,” associate ourselves with either the incarnation or the resurrection.
Some churches focus mostly on the incarnation. In my experience, this focus is most common in more theologically liberal churches, though certainly not exclusively so. They concentrate on Jesus’ example of how he lived as a human, and what he taught during his ministry on earth–especially passages like Matthew 25 which deal with treatment of the poor. This tends to be a more “earth based” theology, dealing with works and how we live now.
Other churches are more resurrection-focused. I find this most prevalent in the evangelical world, though, again, certainly not exclusively so. They focus their attention on the redemptive work of Jesus in his crucifixion and resurrection. What matters is first being in a right relationship with God, and second helping others enter this relationship. This is a more “heaven based” theology, dealing with faith and getting to heaven.
I think part of the reason we do this is out of a desire to separate ourselves from what we see as errors or excesses on the “other side.” For example, in evangelical circles, where I tend to spend most of my time, there can be an aversion to terms like “social justice.” If we focus on social issues, it might give the impression that we are denying the important role of faith.
The truth is, this is not an either-or situation. It is not incarnation or resurrection, works or faith. We must have both. Jesus spent a lot of time teaching about how to live in this world. (See the Sermon on the Mount, beginning in Matthew 5 for an example.) He also spoke clearly of the foolishness of living only for this world. (E.g. Mark 8:34-38) If we are going to be followers of Jesus, we must both live our lives now based on his example and teachings, and put our faith in him and the power of his resurrection to carry us through this life and into the next.