Sunday 4 in the Season of Advent
This week saw the release of the first post-Covid super blockbuster movie, the sequel to the 2009 movie Avatar, which is still the highest-grossing movie at the box-office (US$2.9b). I saw the new movie on the opening day, in 3D. Avatar: The Way of Water, runs to over 3.5 hours (with the opening ads and trailers) – so it’s a serious commitment. Director James Cameron has pulled out all stops and the visual effects, especially in the underwater sequences are spectacular, and a treat.
What is interesting is the basic premise of the films. Avatars are a graphical representation of a user or the user’s character or persona. They can be a projection of our imagined self into a video game, or on social media.
In the films, human beings are able to generate projected avatars of themselves and implant them into the bodies of the local Na’vi on the alien moon of Pandora. It seems that humans are only really a collection of thoughts and memories, and once we extract these, we can drop them into another body and make it our own.
Even though the bad guy dies at the end of the first movie, they can just create a new reality from saved files and drop that into a new avatar.
The really sad thing about this idea is that many Christians think along almost exactly the same lines. We say it is the soul that really matters, and our bodies and indeed this world are not that significant so we can trash and abuse either or both.
Although both films attempt to drive a strong environmental message about not exploiting nature or the ecosystem, there is not the same commitment to the dignity and integrity of the body. Which is why the Christmas gospels continue to need to be heard.
The birth of Jesus to a frail and humble human being in Mary of Bethlehem is essential to our story. God could have chosen to create Jesus as an adult or download the divinity of Jesus into a willing human avatar – but he didn’t. God chose to be conceived in the womb of an ordinary woman, in a pretty extraordinary way. “The virgin is with child…”
Every part and every aspect of Jesus, from the moment of his conception, was fully human and fully God. He didn’t have a divine soul, or divine mind, or divine heart, in a human body. Like all of us, he had perfect integrity and the complete unity of body and soul. And that continued as he grew up and experienced all the ordinary things in life.
Remember the story of the creation of the human in Genesis 2? The Lord God fashions first the physical reality from the clay of the earth, and then breaths life into the body. He doesn’t create a soul first, and then drop it into an avatar. The physical reality is first because the body matters. We matter.
Paul reminds us of this in the introduction to Romans, when he tells us that in the flesh Jesus was a descendent of David, and in the spirit he was designated as Son of God.
The Gospel today also reminds us that our decisions matter.
Joseph and Mary are already legally married as husband and wife – but they don’t yet live together. The Jewish custom of the time was that for the first year or so, the couple lived separately with their respective parents during their betrothal. This gave the man time to build (or extend) his house and get it ready. Often the girl was still young, and this also gave her time to prepare before the marriage was formally consummated at the wedding.
Joseph and Mary are not in an engagement. It is a serious commitment, that can only be broken by death, or in the case of infidelity, it requires a formal decree of divorce.
Matthew tells the story from the perspective of Joseph. Discovering that Mary was pregnant left Joseph in an awful position, torn between love and duty to both Torah and to Mary. He is a just man, so despite all the risks and dangers, he does all that he can to protect Mary while honouring the Torah as best as he can, by staying true to the marriage and adopting the child into his family.
Paul reminds us that we too have been called into the family of God and have received the same invitation to live in obedience to God’s love.
How do we do this? Well, we can’t do it alone! But the God who was born in the womb of Mary is the with-us God, Emmanuel.
That is why we can be called to be saints, because we do it in the grace and peace of the Lord. He does all the work of saving us and redeeming us and we do our work of saying yes, and letting God transform us in his love.