Christianity 201

December 6, 2012

Waiting on Emmanuel

Hebrews 1 (NIV) 1In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.

Today’s post is a reblog from Benjamin Howard’s site, On Pop Theology. This is writer I was aware of a couple of years ago, but then rediscovered recently. I encourage you to bookmark him for some insightful articles and to click through for today’s look at Advent.

The season of Advent [began] on Sunday. If you’re unfamiliar with the Christian calendar, Advent is a time of waiting that takes place for the four weeks leading up to Christmas. It is a time of anticipation and reflection before we celebrate the arrival of Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God With Us.
 

Advent

It’s one of my favorite times of the year because it’s both optimistic and reflective. It’s weighty, but it’s also beautiful.
 
Even more, I love the season because it allows the Church to focus on the Incarnation. I love talking about the Incarnation. I love talking about why God would become man, what that means for humanity, and how it should affect who we strive to be.
 
You see, I feel like in a lot of Christian traditions they view Jesus as a springboard to salvation. God became human so that he could die for our sins. To be a bit crass about it, the Incarnation was the Emergency Backup Plan for when humanity sinned. Sure, he told some nice stories and undermined the religious tradition for a bit, but the point of Christ was to be a sacrifice for the sins of humanity.
 
But I’m not so sure that’s true. In fact, I’m pretty sure that it isn’t.
 
There’s an idea prevalent in the Eastern Church that the Incarnation wasn’t something that God sketched out after humanity messed up, but was part of the plan all along. Essentially, even if humanity had done wonderfully, God still would have become man, Emmanuel still would have come, because God wanted to be with us.
 
In this telling of the Incarnation, it’s not a story about salvation necessarily, it’s a story about love and proximity. It’s a story that says God made us so that he could be with us and that the best way to be with his creation was to be part of his creation. The best part of being in love is being with the person you love. That’s the story we tell about heaven, in whatever way you describe it, so why shouldn’t it be the story we tell about the incarnation as well.
 
But I think the story is even more rich and beautiful and profound that God wanting to be close to us.
 
When I was a senior in college I did a project on Athanasius and his views of the Incarnation. Athanasius famously says that, “God became man so that we might become God.” This belief, often called divinization or theosis, argues that the reason God became human was so that humanity would have access to God’s divinity. God is with us so that we might share in the divinity of God.
 
Now, I’m willing to go one step farther, and I hope you don’t lose me here. I don’t know if there is a divide between humanity and divinity. We are told in Genesis that man is created in the image of God. Various points in the Bible, especially John, go to lengths to describe God as both human and divine. But what if being fully human, fully embracing what we were created to be is the same as being divine? What if Jesus is fully divine precisely because he is fully human?
 
What if in the Incarnation we are not being provided with a picture of a creator bending down to meet his creation, but of a creation rising up to meet its creator? What if God became man to show us the man could become God by embracing what humanity was created to be?
 
Then, like everyone, Jesus, fully human and fully divine, dies. I think that’s a part of the story we gloss over too quickly. In our need to feel catharsis and redemption, we too often forget that this redemption comes about in the form of resurrection, and that resurrection only comes through death.
 
Through the life and death of Christ we are told a story. It is not the story of how we are saved, it is the story of how we live, die, and live again. It is the story we are living, and it is the story we have yet to live. It is a story of anticipation and waiting and longing and hoping. It is the story of love and embrace and a God who empathizes through experience and not omniscience.
 
It is a story worth telling and it is a story worth re-telling. And so … we begin to wait on Emmanuel.
~Ben Howard

January 2, 2012

The Seed in God’s Plan

This actually appeared as an Advent study on the blog of Del Tackett who some of you know from The Truth Project DVD series.  But the initial verse was one we’d been discussing last night as a family, so I decided to included this here today.

“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.” Genesis 3:15

When God spoke the earth into existence, it was formless and void—a lump of clay, so to speak, ready for the Hands of the Craftsman to begin the creative work of fashioning a garden teeming with flourishing delights: birds and fish, animals and plants, things that flew and swam, wriggled and ran, or simply stuck their roots into the perfect soil and brought forth fruit and vegetables, nuts and berries, nectar and flowers and shade and…well, all kinds of beautiful and life-enhancing stuff. But more than all of this, each of these living things was given the privilege and responsibility to recreate themselves. Birds laid eggs that brought forth baby birds that would grow up to lay their own eggs; animals gave birth to baby animals that would grow up to give birth to their own babies; plants produced seed that would fall onto the soil and grow into mature plants that would, in turn, produce their own seeds.

This was the grand plan of God.

But, something happened…something bad, something evil. Now, the garden produced weeds and thistles and thorns. Rather than delight in life, the Evil delighted in death; rather than beauty, it loved the vile; rather than fruit, it bore poison. It is hard to imagine how instantly a garden filled with light could become so cold and so dark so very, very quickly. And it appeared as if there were no remedy, no fix, no hope to get it back to the way it was before the darkness descended…descended upon everything…everything.

That’s when God told us about the Christmas Seed.

He didn’t say much. In fact, it wasn’t a whole lot more than a hint, a clue, a mere glimmer of hope. But with God, whose power and might is infinite, a whisper of promise is as sure as it gets. If He said He was going to take care of it, then we didn’t need a lot of details.

Was it mysterious? Yes, but it carried the promise that God, through this Seed, was going to destroy the Evil that had turned the light off in the garden. And if that happened, then maybe, just maybe, God also planned on turning the light back on as well.

But for sure we knew that before this Seed came, there was going to be war, and the war was going to rage between the seed line of the Evil one and the seed line of the woman.

And boy, did it ever! Abraham was granted the understanding that the Seed was going to come through him. Later on, David was given the same promise. And the war to destroy that seed line was furious. It came from within and it came from without. There were times when it looked as if the Evil line had won. But it hadn’t. Even at the moment when the heart of the Seed stopped beating, when it appeared to all as if the Promise had died, death itself was insufficient to stand in the way of the plan of God to destroy the Evil one.

But why “the seed of the woman”? Isn’t this backwards? Isn’t it the seed of man that propagates the race? Certainly everywhere in Scripture where it speaks of human “seed” it is used of the man. Why such a strange element to this promise?

Well, hindsight is certainly better than the best glasses or binoculars or microscope. If all humanity was tainted with the “death” of Adam, then the Seed couldn’t come from the seed of man. But if He couldn’t come from the seed of man, how would it be possible for Him to come at all?

Ah! That is why He is the Christmas Seed!

That is why He had to be born of a virgin, born of God.

That is why Matthew and Luke, in their genealogies of Jesus, take care to make sure the reader understands that Jesus didn’t come through “man” but through a “woman”. Matthew begins with Abraham and repeats over and over again the phrase “the father of”…until he gets to Jesus. He does not say “…Joseph, the father of Jesus” which is how one would expect this genealogical treatise to conclude. No. Matthew takes a sharp turn and says “…Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called the Christ.” Luke traces Jesus’ lineage back to Adam, using the phrase “the son of” over and over again. But for Jesus, he states it this way “He (Jesus) was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph.”

The seed of the woman, not the seed of a man.

On Christmas, the mystery was no longer a mystery.

It wasn’t until years later, however, that God would move Paul to write these fascinating words, words that put a final bow on the promise made to Abraham 2000 years earlier and, I believe, connects to the mysterious promise made 2000 years before that in the garden:

“The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ…Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come.” Galatians 3:15-19

God made a promise to mankind that He would bring forth the Seed to destroy the Evil one and eventually restore all things. He protected that seed line from Eve to Mary. He protected it through the flood, with Noah. He protected it from Pharaoh and Ahab and Jezebel. He protected it from the Babylonians and the Assyrians. He protected it from Haman and Herod and Pontius Pilate. And then He protected it from the enemy’s final stand and snatched it from the clutches of death and the grave.

Oh, the wonder and grandeur of God who has given us a Savior, Christ the Lord!

~Del Tackett

December 22, 2010

The “Why” of the Incarnation

A few days ago I was under the impression my wife was doing a single song at the Christmas Eve service coming up on Friday.    Then a few days ago, she informed me we were responsible for the whole service.

Going through some files today, we discovered that a short medley I proposed was something we’d done for Christmas in 2005.   It was built around the worship chorus which perhaps was slightly more popular then than now, but still recognizable…

You came from heaven to earth to show the way
From the earth to the cross, my debt to pay
From the cross to the grave
From the grave to the sky
Lord I lift Your name on high.

The “Why” of Jesus birth is that Jesus was born to die.   There is no particular cause to celebrate a Christmas unless there is an Easter.

Another song in the medley is the first verse of an old hymn,

One day when Heaven was filled with His glory
One day when sin was as dark as could be
Jesus came forth to be born of a virgin
Dwelt among men, my redeemer is He

Living He loved me
Dying He saved me
Buried He carried my sins far away
Rising He justified
Freely forever.
One day He’s coming, oh glorious day.

The medley ends with the third verse of And Can It Be…

He left His Father’s throne above
So free, so infinite His grace
Emptied Himself of all but love
And bled for Adam’s helpless race.

‘Tis mercy all, immense and free
For, O my God, it found out me.
Amazing love!
How can it be
That Thou, my God, should die for me.

This blog post is the reverse of this one a few days ago, which talked about Joy to the World actually being 25% about Christmas and 75% about Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection. There are many verses in other hymns that we don’t think of at Christmas which begin with the birth of Christ, but move us quickly into the “why” of Jesus’ birth.

This is a true saying, and everyone should believe it: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–and I was the worst of them all.

I Tim 1:15 (NLT)

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