Staging the Incarnation
If Shakespeare was right that all the world’s a stage and we are all actors performing particular roles, then what exactly is the drama in which we are performing, and what part do we have to play? As one might expect, each religion has different answers to these questions, but Christianity offers a distinctive and particularly compelling answer.
One way to begin answering this question is to identify God as playwright. We have not devised this play; it is the work of the divine playwright, which makes it a divine drama. Of course, God is a very unique kind of playwright. Not only did God conceive of the play, but he also created the entire stage—the whole universe—on which it is enacted. God even created the other actors, whom he invited to join in the creative process of playmaking as active participants. Furthermore, unlike some playwrights, God did not remain detached from the play’s performance, but got involved with the other actors as a producer or director, guiding the performance and becoming personally invested in its impact and success.
For this reason, God as playwright-producer is grieved when human actors mess up the play. In fact, the very first human actors, Adam and Eve, ignored God’s first stage directions—eat from any tree but that one!—and from then on, the play has been in disarray. Nevertheless, through covenants, conversations, warnings, wooings, and a lot of grace, God kept this divine drama going. A more radical action was needed, however, to provide a final solution to fickle and flawed performances. Rather than sit back and watch his play disintegrate, God, the playwright, decided to enter his own play.
We might expect a playwright to appear in his own play as the most important character, with the lights dimmed and the spotlight on him. But the divine Playwright did the opposite, deciding instead to enter unobtrusively, so quietly in fact that the only people who knew about it had to be told by angels—the stagehands—and alerted to the moment for which they had been waiting: the climax of the divine drama. It may have been dark with only a star for a spotlight and a few intrigued audience members, but this was only the beginning.
Sometimes it is difficult to imagine that the divine playwright entered his own play as this little baby called Jesus, in a dirty stable in Bethlehem, but this is the heart of the divine drama. The play in which we are participating is the drama of the divine playwright who entered the play as a human actor, a divine-human protagonist, in order to perform the perfect role and set the play back on course. By staging the incarnation, and later the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, God’s own performance provided the pattern for how to perform the play, but it also provided the possibility for performing the play at all, and with the playwright’s approval.
Once the divine playwright has performed in his own play, what part is there left for us to play? Given the miracle of the incarnation, one of the most obvious ways for us to participate in this drama is to be astonished. Just like Mary and the shepherds, our wonder at the incarnation makes us worshippers, which is one of the most fitting ways to perform in the divine drama today. Worshipping leads naturally to witnessing, sharing the wonder with others and demonstrating it in every area of life. As worshippers and witnesses of the incarnate Lord, we have an active role in the divine drama, for although God has staged the incarnation, the play continues until he pulls the curtain.
A version of this article was originally published in the Winter 2010 edition of Inspires, the magazine for the Scottish Episcopal Church, and is reprinted with permission.