Monday, December 17, 2007

Behold Your God! A Christmas Meditation

When my son was younger we were driving by one of the banks on Watson Road and he cried out, "Look, everyone—open/closed/ open/closed—a pattern!" His Kindergarten teacher had been teaching them to look for patterns in their daily experience. He found a pattern in the alternation of signs above the drive-thru lanes at the bank.

There is a pattern in my preaching on Christmas and Good Friday. Have you noticed? These are really the only two Christian festival days that we observe that don't fall on Sunday. Christmas and Good Friday—the birth and death of our Lord.

Every year on these special occasions I normally make an effort to assist you in reflecting on how these events inform, even transform our understanding of who God is.

Especially on Christmas and Good Friday, in the manger and on the cross, we are given the clearest and yet most challenging disclosures of the nature and character of the Lord of the universe.

This is not a season for mawkish little stories and the like. It ought to be a time for deep, soul-transforming meditation and reflection upon the character and work of our God.

When I studied geology at Mizzou, we could learn just a little about the subsurface geological phenomenon without physically examining the rocks themselves. But what we were really looking for was an outcropping of rock that would reveal to us what was below. The birth and cross of Jesus, if you will, are two major outcroppings of God, who remains largely invisible to us, even though he has in some sense made himself known in creation. In Jesus the invisible God is seen.

Of course, Jesus' entire life was the manifestation of the glory of God, according to the first chapter of John: Jesus is the Word of God, the true and original Image of the Father, the very form of God, and the true and final revelation or manifestation of God by which all of our conceptions of God are to be measured.

I am convinced that every year it is supremely beneficial for Christians to be brought again to the manger and to the foot of the cross and forced to look—Behold, this is your God! No other. What Jesus is, God is. What Jesus does, God does. Here is the meaning of the word "god."

All of the birth narratives rub out noses in this essential fact: this baby is your God. Worship him. This infant is nothing less that "God with us"—Emmanuel. "God among us." Worship him.
Matt. 1:23, ""Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel," which is translated, "God with us."

Matt. 2:11, And when the wise men from the East had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Luke 1:35, "And the angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God."

Luke 1:76 (Zechariah's Song about his Son, John the Baptizer): ""And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; For you will go before the face of the Lord [Yahweh] to prepare the way for him, (Luke 1:76).

Luke 2:11, (to the shepherds) "For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:11).

John 1:1, 'In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14).
There you have it. We behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. God is most fully God when he is taking on human flesh in order to serve us.
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life-- the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us (1 John 1:1-2).
If you insist on learning the meaning of the word "god" from somewhere other than Jesus himself, then your god is a false one. This has always been the temptation for the church. To make over God according to how we think he ought to be.

This is the error of every major heresy in the early church. Most of the heretics meant well. They were concerned to guard a pure conception of God and his nature. This is well illustrated with the arch heretic Arius. The reason why Arius would not say that Jesus was fully God was that he consumed with protecting God's purity from any contact with the material world. He was defending the immutability and impassability of God, as he understood it.

Jesus just had to be something less than fully God! Why? Well, it's not too difficult. He is born an infant! He is in full contact with flesh and material existence. He suffers and dies on a cross. God cannot, God must not be envisioned as submitting to these indignities. God is higher and holier and loftier and therefore above all of this muck.

The Church, by God's grace, did not give into these Greek conceptions of God as surgically removed from his creation. For all of the possible pitfalls, the church confessed what the Scriptures said: Jesus was God. Jesus was born. Mary was the Mother of God (theotokos, literally: "God bearer"), not just the mother of a man. God suffered and died on the cross for us, not merely a man. We cannot explain this. It makes us wince and causes us great intellectual angst, but it is what the Scriptures teach. Here we stand.

Let me address a mistake that continues to be perpetuated and it sounds so right because it is popularly repeated over and over again in apologetics and evangelism books, tracts, and sermons. The mistake is to think that the miracles that Jesus did proves that he was divine. That the clearest, most compelling outcropping of the divinity of Jesus was when he did miraculous works of power. No. Read the Bible carefully. In the Scriptures it is prophets who do these kinds of things.

Moses was not God. He was a mighty prophet. And Moses discovered, too, that the magicians of Egypt could imitate these acts. Jesus himself knew and the author of Acts relates that other people were able to perform exorcisms and various miracles. Similar miracles were done by Elijah and Elisha, but they were not God. Haven't you every thought it odd that the epistles of Paul and Peter and John make no mention of the miracles of Jesus as a proof of his divinity. That whenever they speak of Jesus as God they connect it with his incarnation and self-sacrificial death? As Peter says, "Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him."

But his divine nature and character are unveiled primarily in his humble service to us in his birth, life, suffering, and death. Think of Phil. 2:5-11: "because he existed in the form of God . . . he humbled himself."

The point is that what makes, what proves, if you will, that Jesus is God, is not his works of power and might, but his humble self-sacrifice. His self-effacing love and service for humanity. This is who God is.

The Good News is not that God made some external determination to forgive man, exercised the his divine will, waved a disinterested wand and sprinkled some salvation dust across the human race. What he did was penetrate the very depths of humanity's being and live, to restore the distorted and corrupt condition of man's actual human existence. Genuinely united himself to human, creaturely existence.

God himself bore our infirmities and sins and the whole inheritance of judgment that lay against us--God himself, not merely in some extrinsic, detached wa--but he personally bore all this.

The angels knew where to direct the shepherds. The apostles know where to guide the world to find life—to the heard, seen, touched Word of Life! To Jesus. Listen to the angel when he says, "You shall find him. . ." Where? The angel did not say, you should find him in heaven! The angel did not say you shall find him within you. The angel did not say, you shall find him after much fasting and prayer so that you can transcend the distance between God and man. The angel did not say, you shall find him if you do great works of mercy and love. The angel did not say you shall find him when you philosophically abstract from him all created attributes. The angel said, "Unto you a Savior is born, he is Messiah Yahweh. You shall find him in Bethlehem, lying in a manger."

Listen to the beloved Apostle John. "We proclaim to you the Word of Life" What word of life? John does not say you will discover it within you. He does not give a list of the attributes of divinity and ask you to hold all of these together in order to get your mind around God. He does not say, "You must understand now that God is quite spiritual and cannot have any contact with physical matter." He does not attempt to take us down the path of negation so that we can rise about earthly, material things in order to make mental, purely internal contact with divinity.

No. He links what seems impossible to bring together: "That which was from the beginning" and "what we have seen, heard, and our hands have handled." This is the Word of Life. This is the one "who was with the Father" (v. 2c) and has now appeared.

This little baby is your Creator and Savior. This is the glad tidings to be shouted on the mountain top, according to the prophet Isaiah: "O Zion, You who bring good tidings, Get up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, You who bring good tidings, Lift up your voice with strength, Lift it up, be not afraid; Say to the cities of Judah, "Behold your God!" (Isa 40:9).

This limp infant is the Lord of the universe. The speechless child is the Word of God. This is the offense of genuine Christianity. This is also the glory of our faith.

Don't be distracted by the majesty and incomprehensible otherness of God. Consider the pattern of God's work for us in Christ. Consider what this pattern reveals about who God is. Come and watch and listen at the manger. Consider the cross.

In every other way God is terrible and awesome, a consuming fire. Only in the flesh of Christ do we find a merciful God. Only in Jesus Christ do we find the Word of Life, communion with the Father, eternal joy.

HT: Martin Luther!

1 comment:

Toby Brown said...

Amen!

Thanks for the message. May Christ receive the glory!