This year, Nov. 27 is the first Sunday in Advent and, for the four Sundays following, Christian faithful begin to anticipate and proclaim the four watchwords of the season: peace, joy, grace and love.
Advent celebrations are bound to bring Christian communities and churches together in a celebration of the eternal message of goodwill.
Christmas will once more be celebrated not just by Christians, but by non-Christians, as well, as a religious and cultural festival.
But the central message of Christmas will remain the same, namely: lncarnation equals God becoming man.
Apostle John wrote in his gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, and the Word was God ... The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory.”
However, the concept of incarnation is not unique to Christianity.
Hinduism, a faith tradition as old as mankind, believes in incarnation known as Avatar.
It means god taking a physical form in the world in a human or animal form.
One of the Hindu scriptures, Gita, declares that whenever there is decline of good and uptick of evil, Lord Krishna incarnates himself in the world to destroy the evil and to re-establish the good in order to save the righteous and to destroy sinners.
The obvious question is: If the concept of incarnation is not unique to Christianity, what are the differences between the incarnation of Jesus and all other incarnations?
Let me suggest at least two.
Apart from several significant differences, one is that of the purpose behind incarnations.
Lord Krishna, explaining the purpose of his incarnation, is believed to have said: “incarnate myself in every age to save the righteous and to destroy sinners.”
On the other hand, the Bible gives the purpose of the incarnation of Jesus in this way: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
Jesus himself said: “For the Son of Man came to seek and save what was lost.”
And, in another context, Jesus said: “For I have not come to call [save] the righteous, but sinners.”
Behind these two opposite purposes there are two distinct and opposite theological concepts.
Hinduism and other religions divide mankind between good and evil.
Their thesis seems to be that God helps the good and gives them salvation because they are good.
By being good, mankind has earned their salvation.
According to them, God destroys the evil sinner because by being evil that is what they deserve.
It’s interesting that in Hinduism, the “evil” are always “they” and the righteous are always “we.” There is no sense of personal sinfulness or the concept of inherent sinful nature.
According to Christian theology, no one is good enough to meet God’s standard and so no one can save himself by just being “good.”
The Bible says: “There is no one righteous, not even one. There is no one who does good, not even one. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:10,12, 23.
In the Old Testament, prophet Isaiah wrote: “The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice, He was appalled that there was no one to intervene.
So his own arm worked salvation for him and his own righteousness sustained him.” Isaiah 59:15-16.
Sinful mankind was not able to save itself, so God took it upon Himself to save them and sent His son to save the sinful world.
The Bible describes God as having compassion on sinners. He is not pleased with their destruction.
He wants them to turn to Him and be saved.
The different and opposite purposes of incarnation bring out two opposite concepts of God.
In one, God is the God who judges and destroys the sinner.
In the other, God is the God who saves, provides salvation through His love for the sinner.
Of course, the God of the Bible will also judge one day, but He does not delight in it.
Another major difference between the Hindu avatars and the incarnation of Christ is expressed in the plural versus singular use of the word avatar, many versus one, and how often it has to take place.
In the same text quoted from Gita, Krishna told his disciple Arjuna: “Whenever there is decline of good and up rise of evil, I incarnate myself from age to age,” meaning, as often as needed.
The Hindus’ scriptures list 10 major avatars, but theoretically “whenever” indicates that there is no limit.
It surmises that from time to time, evil raises its head again and again, which makes another avatar necessary with no end in sight.
There is a duality of good and evil, both co-existent and eternal and hence, there is no permanent victory of good
On the other hand, Jesus was able to accomplish his work once, for all and forever. He does not need to incarnate himself repeatedly.
As the author of the book of Hebrews said: “But this priest, after he had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, sat down
at the right hand of God.” Hebrews 10:12.
The Bible has a clear answer to the question: “What if Jesus had not incarnated?”
There would not be any personal encounter with God, unless at His whim and pleasure — a blackout period, off and on and a period of permanent triumph of evil over good.
The birth of Christ brought the lustre of hope to this dark world.
As someone has aptly said: “Sin’s darkness retreats when Christ’s light is revealed.”
Narayan Mitra is a volunteer Chaplain at Thompson Rivers University. KTW welcomes submissions to its Faith page. Columns should be no longer than 700 words in length and include a short bio of the writer. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.