Here, then, Macarius, is our offering to you who love Christ, a brief statement of the faith of Christ and of the manifestation of His Godhead to us. This will give you a beginning, and you must go on to prove its truth by the study of the Scriptures. They were written and inspired by God; and we, who have learned from inspired teachers who read the Scriptures and became martyrs for the Godhead of Christ, make further contribution to your eagerness to learn. From the Scriptures you will learn also of His second manifestation to us, glorious and divine indeed, when He shall come not in lowliness but in His proper glory, no longer in humiliation but in majesty, no longer to suffer but to bestow on us all the fruit of His cross—the resurrection and incorruptibility. No longer will He then be judged, but rather will Himself be Judge, judging each and all according to their deeds done in the body, whether good or ill.
And here we are, Christmas day.
Advent, a time of waiting is over. Today, we rightly celebrate the birth of Jesus, the arrival of the King. Surprisingly, the creator of all things chose to take on a human body and came as a lowly infant. However, if you read the gospel accounts, you might notice that he was rather different than most kings. For years he worked as a carpenter, and then he wandered throughout the countryside of ancient Palestine preaching about the Kingdom of God. He suffered, was crucified, and left for dead.
Something strange happened though; according to hundreds of witnesses this Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. While I cannot go into great detail here why I believe the resurrection actually happened (see Anglican theologian N.T. Wright for more), I will say that this event changes everything.
Don’t take it from me though, look into the Gospel accounts. As sure as the sunrise in the morning, Jesus will return. It might be next year, it could be in the next millennia, but the King shall return. Dear reader, he shall return and put the world to rights. Won’t you place your trust in him today?
So I pray in closing with the ancient church father Maximus the Confessor,
May all of us who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ be delivered from the present delights and the future afflictions of the evil one by participating in the reality of the blessings held in store and already revealed in Christ our Lord himself, who alone with the Father and the Holy Spirit is praised by all creation. Amen
We have seen that to change the corruptible to incorruption was proper to none other than the Savior Himself, Who in the beginning made all things out of nothing; that only the Image of the Father could re-create the likeness of the Image in men, that none save our Lord Jesus Christ could give to mortals immortality, and that only the Word Who orders all things and is alone the Father’s true and sole-begotten Son could teach men about Him and abolish the worship of idols But beyond all this, there was a debt owing which must needs be paid; for, as I said before, all men were due to die. Here, then, is the second reason why the Word dwelt among us, namely that having proved His Godhead by His works, He might offer the sacrifice on behalf of all, surrendering His own temple to death in place of all, to settle man’s account with death and free him from the primal transgression.
In great stories, we discover that things that were once lost were found. In Star Wars we find that a good man was lost inside of Darth Vader. In Lord of the Rings we uncover a long lost ring that needed to be destroyed. In It’s a Wonderful Life we find hope desperately needed to be recovered by one man.
Like all great tales, the story that is communicated to us through Scripture has this lost and found element. In the very beginning scenes of it we are told of a paradise that was lost. However, while paradise was lost, hope itself was still there. After the Fall, God offered the good news found in the protoevangelium (first gospel) of Genesis 3:15.
The Lord God said to the serpent,“Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
Christian theologians found the hope of Jesus in the tail end of that passage, seeing that Jesus would crush the enemy who caused so much suffering throughout the ages. As Athanasius pointed out above, Jesus paid the debt of our sins and transgressions. The lamp humanity broke was not only forgiven, but the cost was paid for by Jesus.
In the Advent season, we look to the arrival of the One who crushed the head of evil. Not only did he bear the sins of humanity through a brutal, torturous death naked on a cross, but he also will come again to right the world. I find hope in the story that Jesus not only created the cosmos so long ago, but he also loves it enough to settle our account with death. Dear reader, I hope you choose cling to this hope.
Do you find hope in this story?——
 St. Athanasius (2009-08-19). On the Incarnation (Kindle Locations 364-370). Kindle Edition.
Last week, I wrote about the importance of finding hope in a story. The story that I referred to started even before the foundation of the universe was in place, before any cataclysmic Big Bang. This story simply started with the Word. As John told us, the Word was with God and the Word was God.
However, the story took a turn for the worse when humanity decided to walk into sin and chose death over life. Yet while humanity was broken “in sin and error pinning,” God chose to rescue us and provide a path for restoration. He provided a means for humanity to be put to right order and eventually for all of creation to be restored (see Romans 8).
Humanity needed a champion, one who could loosen our chains and raise us from the depth of our sins. The Fourth Century bishop and defender of the faith Athanasius would write,
What—or rather Who was it that was needed for such grace and such recall as we required? Who, save the Word of God Himself, Who also in the beginning had made all things out of nothing? His part it was, and His alone, both to bring again the corruptible to incorruption and to maintain for the Father His consistency of character with all. For He alone, being Word of the Father and above all, was in consequence both able to recreate all, and worthy to suffer on behalf of all and to be an ambassador for all with the Father. 
Jesus, the Word who took on flesh (the Incarnation), chose to restore our brokenness. To borrow from an analogy I used a few weeks ago, we broke a lamp and he not only chose to forgive us, but he also paid for the lamp that we broke. Athanasius would further this point when he wrote,
For this purpose, then, the incorporeal and incorruptible and immaterial Word of God entered our world. In one sense, indeed, He was not far from it before, for no part of creation had ever been without Him Who, while ever abiding in union with the Father, yet fills all things that are. But now He entered the world in a new way, stooping to our level in His love and Self-revealing to us. 
The hope of this story is seen in how God chose to rescue his creation. He chose to restore the broken and mend their wounds. The Word, the one who created it all, chose to have the final word by redeeming us. He not only created it all but he also caused the renewal of all. He stooped to our level in his love and revealed himself us. And like a great epic, at the perfect time, Jesus came and fought for us.
 St. Athanasius (2009-08-19). On the Incarnation (Kindle Locations 145-148). Kindle Edition.
 St. Athanasius (2009-08-19). On the Incarnation (Kindle Locations 142-145). Kindle Edition.
Think about your favorite story.
Great stories hardly are about trivial matters, often they are about something much deeper: vanquishing evil, finding love, choosing forgiveness, or celebrating life. There are things worth fighting for and there are things worth dying for.
In the story that started before the words “In the beginning” was even placed on a parchment, there was love. And out of this love, the Trinitarian dance, a grand story began. Forged from the fires of supernovas, slowly the universe took shape and life would take root on this planet. The Word, as John wrote in his gospel account, brought forth creation long ago. But somewhere things went wrong, as Adam and Eve brought sin and death into this story. Humanity needed a way back from the path of death to the way of life.
Athanasius would capture this way of life, pointing his readers to the Word who became flesh. He pointedly wrote,
it was our sorry case that caused the Word to come down, our transgression that called out His love for us, so that He made haste to help us and to appear among us. It is we who were the cause of His taking human form, and for our salvation that in His great love He was both born and manifested in a human body. For God had made man thus (that is, as an embodied spirit), and had willed that he should remain in incorruption. But men, having turned from the contemplation of God to evil of their own devising, had come inevitably under the law of death. Instead of remaining in the state in which God had created them, they were in process of becoming corrupted entirely, and death had them completely under its dominion. 
While humanity was broken “in sin and error pinning,” the Word became flesh and chose to seek after the lost.
At the core of Advent lies the message of hope: those who were lost can now be found. Through the first Advent of Jesus, we are saved, “for with his blood mankind he hath bought,” and in his Second Advent, he will put the world to rights.
 St. Athanasius (2009-08-19). On the Incarnation (Kindle Locations 74-79). Unknown. Kindle Edition.
“The whole is from him, the giving of these things and of those; for no achievement finds its source in us… Not then so as to deliver humankind from darkness only did he show his love toward him. It is a great thing indeed to have been delivered from darkness; but to have been brought into a kingdom too is far greater.”
Have you ever broken something? Perhaps you might have knocked over someone’s vase or smashed their car. Maybe you broke someone’s trust or heart. I’ve also broken many things throughout my life, including rules and my word. Things both trivial and tragic.
In Scripture, we are told that humanity has broken things, we’ve broken boundaries and laws that God set up for our own good. It’s like how one day my wife and I will set up gates in our house to keep Lucy from crawling or running straight down a flight of stairs to a world of hurt. Similarly, God offered humanity life and beauty, and we instead push down the gate to escape down the stairs.
CS Lewis wrote about a beautiful lamp that was broken. At a party (perhaps it was you or I) this lamp was knocked over on accident, and it shattered on the floor. Mortified, I certainly know what the next step would be. In an utter state of horror and embarrassment, I would declare to the host, “I am soooooooooooo sorry! Please forgive me.” Knowing that it is a priceless lamp, one that was passed down from her late grandmother, there is simply no way to make amends for that crash other than to crassly offer to pay for a new lamp.
Lewis went on though, and said that while we can be forgiven for the lamp, somebody had to pay for its repair or replacement. The repairs simply needed to be paid for; even if the host tells us we are forgiven.
The ancient preacher John Chrysostom reminds us that if we place our hope and trust in the risen Jesus, we will be led out of darkness. But it doesn’t stop there at forgiveness or grace, instead he goes further. We are then brought into the family, into the Kingdom of God and are made co-heirs with Christ. While Jesus paid for the broken lamp, of sorts, on the hillside of Jerusalem so long ago, we are given new life.
Friends, I am thankful that Jesus paid it all, though sin had left a scarlet stain, he washed it white as snow.
What else are you thankful for?
O Lord our God, under the shadow of your wings we will rest. Defend us and support us, bear us up when we are little, and we know that even down to our gray hairs, you will carry us.
Friends, I get scared. I get nervous that things won’t work out and that the best laid plans I devise will blow up in my face. If I’m really honest, sometimes I fear that God has forgotten about me.
Have you ever been there?
I’ve said it elsewhere in my writings and I will continue to say it, but I find comfort in the Psalms when that happens. When I feel as if I’m abandoned by the Lord who brought the children of Israel out of Egypt with a mighty hand, I turn to the raw emotions found in the center of the Bible.
This prayer of Augustine touches on those times of anguish, when I am on the verge of breaking. It points me back to the grand narrative of Scripture.
For the follower of the God who called Abram out of his father’s house, we are invited into a journey.
For the follower of the God who led his people out of slavery in Egypt, we are given freedom.
For the follower of the God who raised Jesus from the dead, we are given new life found in him.
Friends, I encourage you to take comfort in God in those times of despair. Like a frightened bird, find comfort under the shadow of God’s wings- He will care for you both when you are little and when you are gray. Take hope even when all looks lost.
Where do you find hope?
“And further, not to know when the end is, or when the day of the end will occur is actually a good thing. If people knew the time of the end, they might begin to ignore the present time as they waited for the end days. They might well begin to argue that they should only focus on themselves. Therefore, God has also remained silent concerning the time of our death. If people knew the day of their death, they would immediately begin to neglect themselves for the greater part of their lifetime… this is so that, when things remain uncertain and always in prospect, we advance day by day as if summoned, reaching forward to the things before us and forgetting the things behind…”
Growing up, I used to think the end times were going to happen any minute and it absolutely terrified me. In high school, I thought it was going to happen by college. In college, I just knew it would occur by my mid-twenties. Now that I am the ripe old age of 28, I’ve decided to stop playing apocalyptic meteorologist and simply let God figure that out. For me, I’m thankful that only the Father knows when Jesus will come again.
In II Thessalonians, Paul wrote to the church he planted reassuring them that in fact Jesus had not returned and they did not miss the boat. Funny to think, but they were a little nervous about that.
Heck, when I signed off on the eschatology of the Left Behind series (Pretribulation-dispensationalist eschatology, for those of you keeping score at home), this thought absolutely terrified me! But this is not the “rapture” event portrayed in the Left Behind series that some within the American church believe will occur in the near future. This is the return of Christ, when he puts the world to rights and evil is finally rooted out. That for me is a reason to hope!
As Athanasius pointed out above, if we knew the exact date of his return (or our death, even), then we would probably slack off until the week of the event. OK, maybe you wouldn’t, but I certainly would!
Wait for the Lord’s return, but until then, keep pointing people to Christ. Live as an ambassador of the Kingdom that will one day bring his will “on earth as it is in heaven.”
What do you wait for?
November is the beginning of the holiday season with the great American feast day showing up on the fourth Thursday of this month. For November’s Wisdom Wednesday, I will highlight four aspects of Christianity that I am thankful for based on the writings of the Ancient Church Fathers.
And how, you say, can faith increase? It does so when we suffer something horrible for the sake of faith. It is a great thing for faith to be solidly established and not to be carried away by some sophistry. But when the winds assail us, when the rains on every side and the waves follow on one another, that fact that we are not shaken is a proof that faith grows, grows abundantly and becomes more exalted.
-Chrysostom Homilies on II Thessalonians 2
In the gospel accounts recorded in the New Testament, we are given several accounts of storms. Winds whipped up on the Sea of Galilee as the disciples of Jesus tried to make their way across the body of water. These violent winds caused their ship to take on water and provoked despair in their gut. While I’ve never been in the belly of a ship during the turmoil of a tsunami, I can only imagine what it would be like.
In my mind’s eye I picture the scene as the storm that struck the ship early on in Life of Pi or the squall captured in Perfect Storm. How terrifying?
Jesus once described another storm in relation to how foolish and wise people act. A fool will take short cuts and will build their house on the sand. While it might be easier to work on the malleable soil, nothing of worth will last. Instead it’s the wise that will do the work and lay a sure foundation for their home.
In that passage Jesus told the people that the storms of life will come, it will hit the homes of both the wise and foolish. It will hit both those who respond to the words Christ and those who reject his words. The promise of Jesus is that those who place their hope in him will not have their life destroyed, even when the storms hit.
I am thankful that in Christ we can have an assurance of salvation, even in times of turmoil. As the great church father wrote above in a sermon on II Thessalonians, faith in Christ will help us withstand the winds whipped up in life. If we build our life on the rock of Christ, then we can withstand the hurricanes that make landfall on our souls.
“It is not by working, but by believing, that we glorify God, and confess Him to be true.” –Martin Luther
As we end the month of October, Halloween and All Saints Day will soon show up in the next two days. Death takes center stage in American life, with one day taking on the undead and ghoulish creatures in the exchange for Reese’s and M&M’s. The other day brings to mind those dearly departed in the faith who join the “great cloud of witnesses” of Hebrews 12.
When I hear that if I place my hope in Jesus and trust in his promise of life — that I can be release from the chains of sin and death — that my friends is something to get excited about. As I wrote last week, when we are joined with Christ, then what is ours is his and his is ours. The sin that once plagued us will be swallowed up in victory, and death itself was conquered through the triumphant resurrection (I Corinthians 15:55-57). Luther would add, “for death is swallowed up in victory, not only the victory of Christ, but ours also, since by faith it becomes ours and in it we too conquer.” Through Jesus, death has been defanged and one day it will be tossed out of God’s creation.
It is my hope that by highlighting the hope of the Christian faith through the work of Martin Luther that you might might understand a little more clearly concerning this faith. I don’t want to see that this faith is a cerebral one, or a faith that will merely warm our hearts. Instead, I want him to be a Messiah for you and me both. That what “is said of him, and what he is called, may work in us.”
Christian liberty is rooted in the confession that “Jesus is Lord,” and once that has been planted in our lives, then indeed we will be free. Freest of all people, and yet servant to all.
One of the more awkward metaphors in Scripture for me to comprehend is the metaphor of marriage. Throughout the Bible (both the Old Testament and New Testament) we are given the illustration of God in a covenant/marriage with his people. Specifically in the New Testament, we are described as a bride adorned for Jesus. I don’t know about you, but as a man, that’s a bit of a stretch to get excited about!
However, Luther sees it differently. He sees it in the light that we are indeed united to Christ: what is ours is his, and his is ours. Much like my marriage with Kristen, we bring everything together into a union. But unlike my marriage, this union provides something better; all things are in common, both good and bad.
Think about that image for a moment—all that Christ has can be yours.
Sit with that for a moment.
He is full of grace, life, and salvation. He will take on all that we have in exchange for all these good things, he will take on all the sin, death, and condemnation that plagues us. Through this union, Christ provides us immeasurable benefits for his own good pleasure. He gives us his righteousness, though we don’t deserve it.
To close out this point, hear (or read) what Luther has to say when we take hold of the righteousness of Jesus by faith in him, since his life is more powerful than death:
“Christ, that rich and pious husband, takes as a wife a needy and impious harlot, redeeming her form all her evils and supplying her with all his good things. It is impossible now that her sins should destroy her, since they have been laid upon Christ and swallowed up in him, and since she has in her husband Christ a righteousness which she may claim as her own, and which she can set up with confidence against all her sins, against death and hell, saying, ‘If I have sinned, my Christ, in whom I believe, has not sinned; all mine is his, and all his is mine,’ as it is written, ‘My beloved is mine, and I am his.’”