The Incarnation Means Reconciliation

“Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,

and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.” -Matthew 1:20-25

“Jesus Christ is truly God and truly human. The incarnation means that God himself is in our world as a human among humans. Through the incarnation of his Word God reveals himself to us and reconciles us to him. This is the message of Christmas.” -Karl Barth

“Jesus Christ came among us sharing to the full the poverty of our ignorance, without ceasing to embody in himself all the riches of the wisdom of God, in order that we might be redeemed from our ignorance through sharing in his wisdom.” -T.F. Torrance

Merry Christmas all! The Lord be with you always.

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The Advent Protest.

“But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.” -2 Peter 3:8-14

It seems the holidays bring far more stress into our lives than what it is intended. A problem arises when we begin to live our lives unintentionally, when we just allow life to happen to us. I’ve been reading through John Webster’s recent book Confronted By Grace, and Advent was the subject of the most recent chapter I read. Webster comments on our busy condition:

“We build our whole lives around the assumption that everything will carry on pretty much as it is; that it will be meaningful to have a career, marry and raise children, build a culture, write a book, look to tranquility in retirement. We can’t seem to work without the steady assumption that our lives and times stretch out in front of us and that we will work and hope, reaching out into future time. Of course, in one sense, we’re quite right to do so. We have to carry on, we have to build, we have to make a future for ourselves.”

We are caught up in our own work, it is all about how hard we can work, how much we can accumulate and assume it will always be like this. As Webster puts it:

“It is against all this that Advent is four weeks of solid protest.”

At the Incarnation, God breaks into human history. This news is radical, life altering. To proclaim the Incarnation is to proclaim that God is with us. The season of Advent is to remind us that our lives are not our own. That our anxieties are fruitless, and only lead us to despair and idolatry. It is this condition that the season of Advent is in protest. We are called to renounce ourselves, die to ourselves, as it is Christ who came and made a home within us. Webster continues:

“Advent tells us that communities which build their political lives around an idea of invulnerability, which assume that the earth and the works on it will remain forever, are in the end idolatrous. Advent tells us that ways of religious belief which like to think that everything about God can be fixed with routines and habits and order are not ways of discipleship, but ways of resisting God’s claim upon us. For these things also are to be dissolved, burned up, and brought to nothing.”

We live our lives constantly on the brink of idolatry. The only remedy is to submit ourselves to the lordship of Christ, and live in thanksgiving in what He has done for us. Our existence is an act of grace. God’s grace is always disruptive and reorienting.

“Advent calls us to live now in anticipation of the new world of God…we are commanded to hold ourselves ready, to be zealous to be found waiting by him at his coming.”

We are called to live lives of anticipation. To be found waiting for Him. Within the waiting we can find the grace needed to persevere, the grace needed to find rest in our anxiety ridden lives. Let us live within the protest of Advent. Barth offers up this prayer:

“We thank you that we are permitted to know that we do not pray and will never pray to you in vain. We thank you that you have let your light rise, that it shines in the darkness, and that the darkness will not overcome it. We thank you that you are our God, and that we may be your people. Amen.” (Fifty Prayers, pg. 5)

Let us echo this prayer today, and the days of Advent still ahead.

Anxiety|Struggle and the Electing God.

“What God has to say to us is this: First, we are forgiven. Astonishingly, with no ground other than the miracle of mercy, the past of sin is over, and we are set free for holiness. Second, we live in the light of God’s glorious presence. God isn’t simply on the other side of the horizon. He is God with us, in Jesus Christ. Third, we live under his rule and therefore within his protection and care. He has taken away from us the evil responsibility we think we have for ourselves, and has set us under his might.” -John Webster, Confronted by Grace: Meditations of a Theologian

The Heidelberg Catechism begins with the question “What is thy only comfort in life and death?” How often do we ask this question of ourselves? Daily? Weekly? However much, it most likely isn’t often enough. Since we are creatures that run full speed into idolatrous thinking, unfortunately this means we are unable to come to a conclusion of ontological significance. We would likely have a different answer depending on the day, mood we are in and circumstances that we find ourselves in. We struggle to find meaning for our existence, we stumble our way through our lives being held captive by our desires towards the created things and pulled away from the One who is the true end of our desires. There seems to be an endless grind, in which the mundane tasks of life seek to suck the life right out of our core. We hopelessly seek an answer, only to find the answers we have found are a mere reflection of ourselves, and this gives us right back to the despair we attempted to get away from.

Is God silent in the face of all this despair? Taking a Que. from Karl Barth, “Nein!” God has spoken a decisive Yes towards His creation. That Word was a saving word. The Word that was in the beginning. That same Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). How wonderful the Christmas season is! It is a global reminder that God has not left us alone in our despair, and has given us the comfort that we seek. Not because of what we did, but out of His love for us.

Karl Barth speaks of the doctrine of election is the sum of the Gospel:

“…All words that can be said or hear it is the best: that God elects man; that God is for man too the One who loves in freedom. It is grounded in the knowledge of Jesus Christ because He is both the electing God and elected man in One.” CD II.2.32, pg. 3

When we look to the Incarnation, we can find that our despair is located within our flesh, which will not overcome us:

“In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4,5)

Christmas season is the witness to this. The darkness has not overcome the light, and the light was the life of men. Before creation He pledged to be our God. In His loving freedom He acted towards us, he did not leave us alone in our despair and anxieties. He truly is Immanuel (Matthew 1:23), God is indeed with us.

The Idolatry and Despair of Mindless Consumption; Finding Rest in Participation. Incarnation, Karl Barth and the Eucharist.

“We who carry our mortality about us, carry the evidence of our sin and with it the proof that you thwart the proud. Yet these humans, due part of your creation as they are, still do long to praise you. You stir us so that praising you may bring us joy, because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is unquiet until it rests in you.” -Saint Augustine, Confessions, 1.2-4

We live most of our days unintentionally. We wake, eat, work, consume, sleep. Beneath the seeming calm, our hearts are deeply troubled. While comfort may be easier to find these days, rest seems to elude us. We cling to various idols to give us our identity, only to find they have betrayed us and lead us to the introversion towards the ocean of despair that permeates our flesh.

The Christmas season, especially in the United States, has become a time of mass consumption in the name of giving gifts. Our hearts are aimed towards spending, and piling on the debt that already seems insurmountable. We are pulled into a particular form of community participation. The kind of participation that distorts our thinking, leaves us wanting. The kind of participation where rest is nowhere in sight. What happens is our hearts and desires are being shaped and formed towards the kingdom of estrangement. Why I’ve labeled it estrangement is about what it is doing to our identity and hearts. It seeks to estrange us from the One who seeks us to give us rest. When we participate in this kingdom of estrangement, it drives us ever quicker to further isolation from the root of our identity.

The story of the Incarnation is about the radical reorientation of our understanding about the identity of God. At the Incarnation, we are confronted with the true revelation of our Lord. Christ is the Word of God. (John 1) He is the saving Word that God spoke into our suffering. When we accuse God of silence in a world of suffering, He has already spoken a Word against the silence. His Word speaks against the kingdoms of oppression that seem to run the world. He offers us to participate in communion with Himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Participating in the work of Christ is where we can find the rest we tirelessly chase after. What is so marvelous is we have done nothing to earn in this rest. It is offered to us, by God’s free action of love and grace towards us in the work of his Son. His action is always towards us, as attested to in the Scriptures, and our action is always running away from Him, which is also attested to in the Scriptures. Theologian Jurgen Moltmann speaks of the Incarnation this way:

“God became man that dehumanized men might become true men. We become true men in the community of the incarnate, the suffering and loving, the human God.” (The Crucified God, 1993)

Karl Barth in his Church Dogmatics IV begins building on the theme of “God with us” as the central message in the Christian proclamation. He speaks to God’s action of redemption (I’m quoting him at length):

“…We ourselves are directly summoned, that we are lifted up, that we are awakened to our own truest being as life and act, that we are set in motion by the fact that in that one man God has made Himself our peacemaker and the giver and the gift of our salvation. By it we are made free for Him. By it we are put in the place which comes to us where our salvation (really ours) can come to us from Him (really from Him). This actualization of His redemptive will by Himself opens up to us the one true possibility of our own being. Indeed, what remain to us of life and activity in the face of this actualization of His redemptive will by Himself can only be one thing. This one thing does not mean the extinguishing of our humanity, but its establishment.” (CD IV.1.1.7, pg. 14, 15)

Moreover, we cannot detach the Incarnation and Atonement as distinct, but bound together in the work of Christ. At the Incarnation, therefore, God establishes our humanity in Christ. Before the foundation of the world, Christ was slain (Rev 13:8). “God’s eternal will is the election of Jesus Christ” (CD II.2, pg. 146) In Him we have been predestined (Eph 1:4-6), not in deterministic fatalist fashion, but out of love for us He secured our salvation in Jesus Christ.

In Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth in the tenth chapter is a call against idolatry. Pointing to the early Jewish people who were baptized by Moses, who participated in idolatry consistently. (1 Cor 10:1-5) When we get to the passage about the Lord’s supper, Paul contrasts it by arguing we cannot partake at both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. (v. 21) The passage the comes before this is about the broken bread and the wine:

“The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (v. 16, ESV)

As we partake in the Eucharist, we are in essence railing against idolatry. We are actively resisting the idolatry and despair of mindless consumption. By participating the shed blood and work of Christ, through the Eucharist with the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, we enter into the rest of Christ. Though we are in a season of anticipation, again we cannot separate the Atonement from the Incarnation. When we look to the Incarnation, let us find rest in it!

Our rest comes from Christ. His faith is now our faith. We are grafted in to the communion of Father, Son and Holy Spirit as one holy catholic Church, through the finished work of Jesus Christ by participating in the Eucharist through the power of the Holy Spirit. To quote Barth once more:

“To pronounce the name of Jesus Christ means to acknowledge that we are cared for, that we are not lost. Jesus Christ is man’s salvation in all circumstances and in face of all that darkens his life, including the evil that proceeds from himself. There is nothing which is not already made good in this happening, that God became man for our good. Anything that is left can be no more than the discovery of this fact. We do not exist in any kind of gloomy uncertainty; we exist through the God who was gracious to us before we existed at all… It is this faith that we are called to belief through the Christian Church and in the Holy Spirit.” (Dogmatics in Outline, pg. 71)

Let us therefore rail against the idolatry of the world, rage against the kingdom of oppression that seeks to destroy what is good!

 

 

Pressing into Advent.

I am helping my family journey into the Advent season. We put up an Advent calendar, a homemade version, with various treats and gifts inside each bag. Each day my son is rearing to open each bag, to discover what is waiting for him. Having a two year old son, and a two month old daughter really helps bring back the awe and mystery in life. They draw me out of myself, and help reorient my attention back towards them.

As the season moves along, I’ve been enjoying going through T.F. Torrance’s IncarnationI’m fairly new to Torrance’s theology, so after getting through Incarnation, I plan on going through his book Atonement for Easter. Working through my reading for the day, I was struck by this particular statement from Torrance (at length):

“The Incarnation of the Son of God has a prehistory, a background or hinter ground of preparation and significance which we must not overlook. If in the divine purpose, the incarnation came at a particular point in time, in the history of Israel, it was clearly of design: it is at that point in the context of the history of Israel that Jesus is to be understood. If we are to be faithful to the witness of scripture we cannot but start in the same way. That does not mean that we are simply to interpret Jesus in terms of his background in Israel. The background for Christ the Son of God can only be the background which the fact of the incarnation creates for itself out of our world…We must say that when the Son of God breaks into historical development, he throws it all into critical reorientation.” (Torrance, pg. 38, 2008)

May the Word made flesh critically reorient our thinking and affections towards Himself and to our neighbors this Advent season, and everyday that follows.

 

Torrance, T., & Walker, R. (2008). Incarnation: The person and life of Christ ([Rev. ed.). Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.

An Abstract for a Paper; “Heaven and Earth Reconciled: A Trinitarian, Proper Functionalist Perspective”

Here is an abstract I submitted for a collection of papers for “Heaven and Philosophy”.

 

Abstract:

Often when we think of heaven, our concepts tend towards a dualistic view of material and immaterial. Heaven, so it is thought, is a place we go when we die, and is our final destination. Though much has been made of this position, very little evidence points in this direction. When we believe in the false dichotomy of material and immaterial, this leads us into error about the importance of the material world. The Gnostics attempted to do away with the material, as they viewed it was inherently evil. This view has been a subtle poison in the modern day Christian thought, as we seek to somehow escape the material world, and therefore the material is really of no importance. Is this true? When we search the Scriptures, is this the view we find? How are we to understand what Scripture is communicating? This question trends us towards understanding the ontology of Scripture, which would do us well in understanding what it is communicating and how it communicates. Moving from the ontology of Scripture, I will contend that ultimately Scripture is a comprehensive witness to the gospel of Christ, the Word made flesh. It is a sanctified medium in which God communicates His Word to us, which is Christ. The project of Reformed Epistemology, and more specifically the proper functionalist account given by philosopher Alvin Plantinga will be of use to give an account of how we come to have knowledge of the things Scripture communicates. What I contend, with help from T.F. Torrance, is that the existence of heaven does not render Earth pointless. The very fact that Christ became incarnate shows that the material world is not meaningless or pointless. He came to reconcile all things to himself (Col 1:20). He appeared to his disciples in the flesh that hung on the cross. (Luke 24:36-43) To quote Torrance: “He came to take our place, in all our human, earthly life and activity, in order that we may have his place as God’s beloved children, in all our human and earthly life and activity, sharing with Jesus in the communion of God’s own life and love as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”