One nerdy pastor's proclamation, examination and defense of the
Saturday, December 18, 2010
In Defense of the Incarnation
+ Saturday of the 3rd Week of Advent + December 18th, 2010 Morning Prayer at Convocation on the Incarnation, Grace Lutheran, San Diego Text: 1 John 1:1-4 In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.
There's an apocryphal story that Luther once told:
Once upon a time the devil attended Mass in a church where it was customary in the Creed to sing: Et homo factus est, that is, "He was made man." While they were singing this, the people just remained standing and did not kneel down. The devil was so incensed, that he slammed his fist into one man's mouth, saying, "You boorish bum, aren't you ashamed to just stand there like a post and refuse to kneel for joy? If God had become our brother, as he did become your brother, our joy would be so great that we wouldn't know what to do with ourselves."
And that's the way most people see the incarnation – a cleverly devised myth. You're busy filling your kids' stockings while the Atheists of America are busy filling up billboards: This season, celebrate reason.
There's just one problem…that's not a very reasonable presupposition. For these events did not occur in a corner. Unlike the pagan pantheons and Egyptian mythic worlds, Yahweh leaves a paper trail – and a reliable one at that:
"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete" – 1 John 1:1-4.
This is the stuff that makes Lawyers and Classic's scholars envy a Physician and fishermen. You won't hear about it in the latest conspiracy mock-umentaries. But that's what you confess every Sunday in three simple words: Under Pontius Pilate. The Word became Flesh and dwelt among us…in history.
The fullness of time arrives in the fullness of Mary's womb. Perfect God and perfect zygote. True God and yet true human embryo. Begotten of the Father before all worlds, yet born of a virgin. The Creator comes swaddled in the stuff of His creation – a diapered deity. Glory to God in the highest…whose birth ward smells of manure and hay.
Do not think that this is somehow beneath God. God is not ashamed of lowliness, quite the opposite in fact. He becomes who you are – a woman's child, born under the Law – so that you can become what He is – no, not gods, but sons of God. So, there's no need to alert St. Nicholas for a bishop slap, isn't that right, Arius?! For He becomes no less, we become infinitely more in Him. He redeems and restores man as God truly intended: a new Adam and Eve, perfect, holy. That's what this is all about. One small step for God, one giant leap for mankind. God takes everything human – body and soul, eyes, ears and all our members – and pulls it into God, not by the conversion of the God-head into flesh, taking humanity into God.
It all comes down to four pivotal words in the creed: He was made man. So, contrary to the popular Christmass hymn: little baby Jesus did cry. That means God cried. God dirtied His diapers. God learned His ABC's. God played in the wood shavings of Joseph's workshop. God suffered for you. God bled for you. God died for you.
You see, God doesn't work in mysterious ways. He works in hidden, seemingly weak and foolish ways, that-which-we-have-seen-heard-and touched ways. After all, God likes matter, He created it.
For if He does not work this way – if He did not come in the flesh - then you are still in need of a substitute, a Savior. And that is your greatest need. You have no need for a burning in the bosom god; or a god who can pull the moon through the sleeve of your tunic; or a god who tells you pain and suffering are only an illusion.
You need the incarnate Son of God, He who was from the beginning, who was seen and heard and touched – whose miracles are vindicated by His resurrection. You do not need the god of myths and legends, but of flesh and blood and history. You need the Babe of Bethlehem, come to save. You need Him who knew no sin to become your sin. And that's exactly what He does on the cross. Jesus takes your sin and He covers you with His righteousness. He takes your pain and suffering, your sin and death and He makes it His own. He stands in the gap and puts His foot in the door that Satan seeks to slam shut, even if it means His own death.
That's the God-made-man you have. You have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the Righteous One, the Mighty One who comes with great miracles and power….yet wields His power in the most unexpected and unusual of ways: suffering and weakness, sorrow and death. He would not have it any other way. Jesus' life begins and ends in joyous catastrophe – and in Him, so does yours. Of the Father's love begotten – He was Made man, suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified, buried, dead. descended to hell and risen from the dead – for you.
And if it is good to confess that the Word was made flesh, how much greater, then, to confess that the Word remains flesh.
If you want to know who God is, look at Jesus. The eternal God comes to dwell with man as man, not for His sake, but for ours: merciful, fleshly, blood and guts love. God is born. God is crucified. God is with us. Forever, Christ comes to us as true God and true man. The Word remains flesh and dwells among us in that water and Word we see in the font, and His body and blood we touch in the Supper, and His pardon we hear in Absolution. For Christ was made man, and in Him your joy is complete.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.