Carnation Milk

Darkness is gathering, and light from the low-lying sun is scarce. Winter has pulled out fresh white linens and covered over the rich, melancholy hues of those late Autumn days. The sparkle of those linens in the dark of a December night is crisp and clear. Lit candles and twinkling lights bring a soft frame to the inky black glory of the long night.

Advent – this time of year when we are invited to ponder the Incarnation. As a child, when I heard that word incarnation, I immediately associated it with the red and white cans of Carnation Milk that was often used in tea in the community where I grew up. Those associations have a way of sticking in one’s craw.

Incarnation – “the form, appearance, or mode of presentation assumed by a person or thing at a particular time” (Oxford Canadian Dictionary). This is the crux of the Christmas story. God, the Divine, not only taking on the appearance of, but actually becoming a baby. God, the Divine, relinquishing all power, control, and dignity to become an embryo in the womb of a peasant girl. God, the Divine, giving up all rights, giving up voice, to be nurtured in the precarious vulnerability of a young girl’s pregnancy. What kind of invitation does this pose to us, to me?

Some believe this story to be literal, some believe it to be mythical, but either way, the essence of the story, that of voluntarily laying down one’s rights, quietly glimmers. If God, the Divine, voluntarily lays down divine rights, what does living the incarnation look like for us, for me? What does an adult, mature, informed laying down of my rights look like in my world? While this can take on an unhealthy interpretation (musings for another time), the awareness of my rights and then voluntarily setting them aside as a way of dismantling barriers seems like it could add to the good around me. What does this look like fleshed out in my everyday living? And is this what incarnation is about?

I am not a theologian or scholar; I’m merely a homespun muser who associates incarnation with carnation milk. But the profound simplicity of this story’s message, birthed into the margins of society two millennia ago, cannot be relegated only to classroom and textbook. There is life in this message that is almost beyond the realm of intellect – an embryotic cord pulsing with an upside-down notion of downward mobility. It is counter cultural and counter intuitive and when I encounter it, I can feel the movement of a new way of living.

Now I like what might be considered the “trappings” of Christmas time. I like creating corners touched with festivity, using old things in new places. I like to fill cookie tins with my kids’ favourite treats. I like to find that perfect gift for my grandkiddies. But, I know that that’s not what this message, this invitation is about. The Christmas season can become a licence for greed and gluttony reducing us to grumbling grinches, but we are beckoned to a profoundly simple way of being that has nothing to do purchasing and consuming.

So, let’s consider the simple openness of the womb and the manger, those most unlikely of places, and be as hospitable with our spaces. The ache of loss and the thrill of new life are often intertwined and heightened in this season – let’s be quietly present. And let us consider and ponder what this invitation of incarnation may be for living in the everyday of every season.