In my previous career, I attended a lot of groundbreaking and ribbon cutting ceremonies. What I found in those momentous events was an abundance of speeches, veggie trays, and watered down fruit punch, yet the hosting parties anticipated the great reveal of what could be and what something will become. However, rarely do we find people celebrating the murky middle, the time in between the pouring of the foundation and the unveiling of a completed project. For most of the project, these people just wait.
Currently, I find myself in a similar situation: I’m waiting.
Waiting for the birth of our son. Waiting for the completion of a total loss accident claim with our car insurance company. Waiting for answers to big career questions that will mean whether or not we move. Waiting for God to act in pretty sizable ways.
As I wait, I cannot help but think about the way Jesus must have felt as he waited. Waited in a womb for 9 months. Waited to walk. Waited to potty train. Waited to take up the family trade of carpentry. Waited for 30 years to start his public ministry. Waited through a trial, execution, and burial all while knowing who he was and that he will be seated at the right hand of the Father.
During this season, I take comfort in the words of Psalm 40,
I waited and waited and waited for God.
At last he looked; finally he listened…
Soften up, God, and intervene;
hurry and get me some help,
So those who are trying to kidnap my soul
will be embarrassed and lose face,
So anyone who gets a kick out of making me miserable
will be heckled and disgraced,
So those who pray for my ruin
will be booed and jeered without mercy.
But all who are hunting for you—
oh, let them sing and be happy.
Let those who know what you’re all about
tell the world you’re great and not quitting.
And me? I’m a mess. I’m nothing and have nothing:
make something of me.
You can do it; you’ve got what it takes—
but God, don’t put it off.
For me, this is how I feel while in this season of waiting: I sit on the edge of my seat, waiting for God to act, waiting for him to show up and intervene. But does that always happen? Is there an unexpected benefit to waiting on God? Let me tell you about that in my next post.
What are you waiting on?
I mentioned recently that God is both the embodiment of love and justice. I wanted to take it a step further and convey that we are able to see God’s love for us in his justice. Please hear me out.
In an ancient world marked by child sacrifice and appeasing the gods with human sacrifice, the God revealed through the story set forth in the Bible set himself apart from the other gods. In that day, people could please their respective gods through crass commercialism. Perform X (sacrifice this child or these animals) and you would receive Y. These gods were made in the image of their creators, crafted out of wood, stone, or metal.
Compare the bad tempers and capricious acts of the deities with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who is characterized as slow to anger and quick to forgive. He defends the weak and wants his people to choose justice. Reading through the Minor Prophets (Amos, Micah, etc.) will reveal how much of an issue this is to the character of God.
God physically stepped into history
Keep in mind though, the God revealed to us in Scripture does not send us happy thoughts and a celestial thumbs up. Instead, God invests in his broken creation through the incarnation when God became man. He chose to come down, endured injustice firsthand and was tempted in every way.
The Book of Hebrews would record, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” In light of this reality, we can boldly draw near to the throne of grace, and can find grace in our time of need.
Yes, the Old Testament is full of sacrifices that covered over sins and also gave thanks for God’s provision. The New Testament follows this line when he chose to once and for all cover the sins of humanity.
The love of God is seen in the propitiation for our sins and the absorption of God’s justice. Indeed to make your headspin, God took on God’s wrath through the sacrificial death of Jesus (remember, Jesus is fully God) for our sins. He demonstrated his immense love for us that while we were sinners, he chose to die for us.
How do you hold onto the tension of justice and love?
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.
If God’s incomprehensibility does not grip us in a word, if it does not draw us into his superliminious darkness, if it does not call us out of the little house of our homely, close-hugged truths… we have misunderstood the words of Christianity.
One of the themes of Advent that comes to my mind quickly is that of mystery and Rahner’s quote helped speak to this theme. If we are not kicked in the gut by the declaration of Advent (and Christianity overall), then we have missed something. Somewhere along the line, the message (that God came to us) has been lost in translation.
The proposition that God has come to us in the lowly form of a helpless infant should prompt us to wonder and amazement. God became man.
Jesus learned how to walk, talk, and be potty-trained. Jesus meek and mild (as the song goes) is not an accurate representation of the reality of his existence. Jesus was a baby and probably cried like other infants. He gestated for months and teethed as an infant. The eternal God was in the confines of the womb, growing and developing ever so slowly.
We ought to rest in the incomprehensible nature of God incarnate and cry out “Holy, holy, holy” to the one who took on flesh to restore our brokenness and right the world. He took on flesh and was made an embryo that became man (incredible!). He took on flesh that we might have eternal life through his death and resurrection. His Advent has come and He will return again.
Come Lord quickly.
The Gospel Coalition had an interesting blog post today on the subject of the Incarnation. Here is the question posed to Dr. James Anderson, Assistant Professor of Theology and Philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC:
Ralph D. from Cork, Ireland asks:
How do we hold together the idea that God doesn’t change with what happened at the incarnation and resurrection – where Jesus was united to a human nature and took on an earthly body and ultimately a resurrection body? It’s hard to understand that God taking on a human nature and all that he experienced in the flesh is not fundamental change for him.
I encourage you to check out the full explanation to get a good theological exercise!
“For it was to him no lowering to put on what he himself has made. Let that handiwork be forever glorified, which became the cloak of its own creator.”
– John Chrysostom
Timothy Keller once wrote that the message of Christmas is that God comes to us and that we cannot come to God. The implications of Emmanuel (God with us) is profound, for we will always live in the reality that we are on a visited planet. God came down and took on flesh for us. The Word, as John would write, wrapped Himself in a human body to provide humanity a way to God.
The Word was the inspiration and giver of breath for the created world. He was there at the beginning of it all. Athanasius wrote that “there is no inconsistency between creation and salvation for the One Father has employed the same Agent for both works, effecting the salvation of the world through the same Word who made it in the beginning.” The second person of the Trinity both made and then redeemed that fallen creation. It was not a detriment for Him to take on flesh. Instead He humbled Himself in order to restore humanity to the possibility of a right relationship with their God.
Thanks be to God for making and redeeming us! As Chrysostom wrote, “To Him, then, who out of confusion has wrought a clean path; to Christ, to the Father, and to the Holy Spirit, we offer all praise, now and forever. Amen.”
Recently my Advent devotional discussed the interesting tie between Jesus’ purpose and entrance into the world. Hopefully I don’t ruin the story, but Jesus was birthed in a stable and was nailed to a cross. “Jesus’ life began in a stable and ended on the cross between two criminals,” as J. Heinrich Arnold would write. The Advent and Passion of Jesus are inextricably linked. Edith Stein reminded me that all of the mysteries within the Christian faith are linked together. If one takes the trip to Bethlehem, then Golgotha surely must follow. We move from crib to cross. From humility to utter shame.
A dark side to Christmas must be tied to the brilliance of the season. While we can appreciate the lights and candles, we must acknowledge that it is the darkness that only adds to their glorious nature. The lights point us towards hope and brighter days.
If candles in a window and lights hung on a tree offer beauty and hope, how much more so with the coming of the Son of God? John states in the prologue to his gospel account that Jesus was the life of humanity, the very light of God. “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). Indeed the light shines forth in both the bleak midwinter and in the depravity of the human condition. The light of the world came forth to alter our situation and to bring redemption to our sinful reality. As the carol ‘Silent Night’ beautifully depicts,
Silent night, holy night
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth.
God is with us. Amen.
One of the most beloved tales in English literature is the story of Ebenezer Scrooge. Charles Dickens’ timeless story was created as a commentary on society at that time and helped create enduring Christmas traditions. While I never really connected it to the Christian story of Christmas, I believe that there are some unexpected parallels. The message of a Christmas Carol was about charity, love and aiding the poor souls that filled the streets of London. Scrooge was chastised dramatically for not being charitable towards them. He ultimately had a rebirth of character, prompting an incredible change in Scrooge.
While the Dickens story might be nice and socially challenging, what does it have to do with the birth of God Incarnate? The first Advent (ie, appearing) of our Lord was a way of bringing the Kingdom of God crashing into the world. As Jesus took on His earthly ministry, He challenged the way many of His listeners thought about wealth. He told people to sell all that they had and come after Him. Others rectified their financially corrupt dealings and served Jesus. He warned the wealthy that the accumulation of wealth very well could cost them their own life.
I believe that Jesus is saying this because people who have been given a lot will be required to live an amply abundant Kingdom life. In one’s luxury, hopefully their generosity and charity has not been neglected. The Kingdom of God is about the flipping of the world’s powers on its proverbial head. Those that are oppressed shall indeed be empowered and liberated. The Kingdom is not just about personal salvation, but about societal reckoning. It is about putting the world to right. The first Advent of Jesus ushered this in and the second Advent will implement it fully.
I don’t know about you, but quite honestly these sayings of Jesus are tough and truly convict me to the core!
“That is why, behind all our fun and games at Christmastime, we should not try to escape a sense of awe, almost fright at what God has done. We must never allow anything to blind us to the true significance of what happened at Bethlehem so long ago. Nothing can alter the fact that we live on a visited planet.”
“Watch for the Light” Advent Reader
The overwhelming reality that God has visited our planet should rightly jolt a person. It should kick them and startle their innermost being. So often we picture Christmas as a nice holiday, something so neat and tidy with a bow on top of it. Cute figurines represent the holy family and bright lights shine forth in the dark winter. We say put Christ back into Christmas as we run around completing our Christmas shopping list. The mystery of the first Advent is replaced with orderliness and busyness.
As we enter into the midst of the Christmas season, it is important to remember the scandal and drama of that first Advent centuries ago. God became man and walked on this planet. He came down, emptied Himself, and lived on this planet. God, the powerful covenant keeping Lord who brought Israel out of Egypt and rescued her from her foes (see Psalm 136 as the psalmist develops this thought), sat inside the womb of Mary for nine months. God, the one who spoke the universe into existence, then learned how to speak and walk as a toddler does. We live on a globe that once was visited by God Himself, clothed in the flesh of humanity!
To process the reality that God became man and dwelt among us is too bizarre. How frightfully wonderful to think that the incarnation occurred so that we might be reconciled to God. Now as we await the second Advent of Jesus, it makes for even more interesting drama. Christ will return and right the world. He will finally implement His Kingdom in its totality.
And with that thought I pray, “Lord come quickly!”
“Therefore, relying on this pledge, we trust that we are sons of God, for God’s natural Son fashioned for himself a body from our body, flesh from our flesh, bones from our bones, that he might be one with us. Ungrudgingly, he took our nature upon himself to impart to us what was his, and to become both Son of God and Son of man in common with us.”
Institutes on the Christian Religion
Calvin penned these words to remind people that God indeed understands our lot. He know what it is like to hurt, grieve, suffer, and be rejected. The Second Person of the Trinity humbled Himself and became Incarnate, becoming a man. This God-Man, as it were, bore all of our similarities and weaknesses. Jesus, no doubt, became ill at times, had a sore neck and even suffered a tremendous headache. Jesus was human, and He knows what we go through even in the midst of our, at times, seemingly monotonous life.
Now, how does this correlate with Thanksgiving? I wrote this piece specifically for today because whatever we may face presently, Christ know what we are going through. We can understand and hold onto the reality that Jesus is our High Priest (as the writer to the Hebrews would suggest) that sympathizes with us. He did not sit idly by hoping that things would get better for us. Instead, the Word of God became incarnate, taking on a human body. It is almost as if God decided to roll up His sleeves and redeem His creation. Jesus, fully God and fully man, walked across ancient Palestine and experienced what fallen humanity faces.
The very Image and Son of God became man that we might become sons and daughters, indeed joint heirs of the Father. Today, let us rejoice in the fact that Jesus became man in order that we might receive what was imparted “to us what was his, and to become both Son of God and Son of man in common with us.”
Thanks be to God!