Wednesday, December 29, 2010

True Humility

"Whoever is truly humbled - will not be easily angry, nor harsh or critical of others. He will be compassionate and tender to the infirmities of his fellow-sinners, knowing that if there is a difference - it is grace alone which has made it! He knows that he has the seeds of every evil in his own heart. And under all trials and afflictions - he will look to the hand of the Lord, and lay his mouth in the dust, acknowledging that he suffers much less than his iniquities have deserved."
--John Newton, Letters of John Newton ("Indwelling Sin and the Believer")

Friday, December 24, 2010

Immanuel, the Warrior-With-Us

Just a short post for Christmas Eve, friends.

As I was meditating on Isaiah 7, the passage that Matthew quotes regarding "Immanuel," I was struck by the context of the promise and what it says to me today.

This has been my most anxious and fearful Christmas in a long, long time (maybe ever). The truth that God is with us, with me, has been a tender reminder of why Jesus came and how I can rely on him to stay with me while I fall apart, quietly and surely redeeming. The truth becomes even more powerful when I see in the context of Isaiah 7, that the "sign" of Immanuel is given by God to King Ahaz who is overwhelmed by anxiety and fear, a sign that God is present with him, faithful to all his promises.

Throughout the Scriptures God's presence "with" his people has meant several things:
1) God is present to fight for his people
2) God is present to forgive and bless his people

The fact that God was with Ahaz, and is with us in Christ, is a reminder that not only dwells with us powerful, forgiving support, but also that God fights for us.

Some texts:
When the angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he said, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.” (Judges 6:12 NIV)

On that day
they will say to Jerusalem,
“Do not fear, Zion;
do not let your hands hang limp.
17 The LORD your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zephaniah 3:16-17 NIV)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Advent Baby Names

Recently in Formation Group we had an excellent discussion revolving around Matthew 1:18-25.

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. (NIV, emphasis mine)

The two prominent names for the Messiah in this passage are Jesus (savior from sin) and Immanuel (God with us). These two names are obviously closely related, pointing to different aspects of the mission and message of the incarnate Son. They point to, for example, the fact that this baby Jesus was born to die for sin (hence the name, Jesus). Sin demands payment, and only God could pay our debt (the futile repetition of the Old Testament sacrificial system and the failure of the offices of prophet-priest-king are more than sufficient to bear this out).

One of the beautiful truths that Immanuel brings out is that the point of Jesus dying for our sins is so that we could live with God forever. This is a point I've brought out before, that the main point of the gospel is life-with-God. Too many "gospel-centered" theologies forget this, making the gospel an end in itself, almost to the level of an idol. The incarnation itself is also a powerful reminder of this - God came to dwell with us! Hear these passages anew:

"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14 NIV).

"And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away”(Revelation 21:3-4 NIV)

Let's allow these two names of the Messiah (Jesus, Immanuel) room to play in our imaginations this Christmas. This baby, this weak and vulnerable God who made the universe and holds it all together came to die for our sins so we can be with him forever. How can we withhold our hearts and minds from him? How can we fail to trust such a tender warrior? He has given us everything he has, all the riches of heaven and earth; let us not be hesitant to give him everything of our daily lives, whether it be painful, joyful or mundane.

"Who can understand the riches of the glory of this grace? Here this rich and divine bridegroom Christ marries this poor, wicked harlot, redeems her from all her evil, and adorns her with all his goodness. Her sins cannot now destroy her, since they are laid upon Christ and swallowed up by him. And she has that righteousness in Christ, her husband, of which she may boast as of her own and which she can confidently display alongside her sins in the face of death and hell and say, ‘If I have sinned, yet my Christ, in whom I believe, has not sinned, and all his is mine and all mine is his.’” – Martin Luther, The Freedom of a Christian

Friday, December 17, 2010

Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus

My Advent readings have involved reading this hymn everyday this week. It was written in 1744 by Charles Wesley.

Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel's strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.

Born thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all sufficient merit,
raise us to thy glorious throne.

This nicely summarizes my hopes and desires for the season.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Way of Christmas and The Way of Jesus (2)

I'm continuing to reflect on the way in which Jesus came/comes providing a way for us to live.

Two more thoughts:

1) Jesus came as an infant, the most vulnerable expression of our humanity (Philippians 2). One thing this means is an embracing of childlikeness that is at the center of the Kingdom of God.

"Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. 18:4 ESV)

"Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it." (Mark 10:15 ESV)

One of the ways Jesus taught us to become like children was to become one himself. It teaches us to watch and learn how children live in a world of wonder, humility and unabashed dependence (not overlooking the sinful corruption of these things in all children and adults).

Chesterton reminds us,
"Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we." (Orthodoxy, ch. 4)

2) The second thing about "this way" of Jesus is a celebration of process - By stepping into human life as a baby, Jesus entered into (and redeemed) the fullness of human experience, the processes involved in becoming a child, toddler, adolescent and adult. There are no "fast tracks" or instant magical solutions with this God-man. He entered into the waiting, participation, joys and frustrations involved in processes like puberty, learning a language, learning to walk, learning a trade, etc. This give us great hope that Jesus understands and enters into all our daily processes that are involved in our humanity, many of which are mundane and "insignificant."

The "Christmas way" of Jesus teaches us to receive him afresh as a child, with wonder, delight and ruthless trust. It also calls us to His presence in the daily processes that are wrapped up in each of us "being human" throughout the year, not just at Christmastime.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Meditations From the Stable

As I linger over the stable and in my imagination see the infant Jesus as God's inbreak into my world, I came across this in my ESV Study Bible in the article on the doctrine of Christ:

Four statements must be understood and affirmed in order to attain a complete biblical picture of the person of Jesus Christ:

  1. Jesus Christ is fully and completely divine.
  2. Jesus Christ is fully and completely human.
  3. The divine and human natures of Christ are distinct.
  4. The divine and human natures of Christ are completely united in one person.
These truths are largely hammered out in the Nicene (A.D. 325) and Chalcedonian (A.D. 451) creeds. It is interesting to imagine looking at the infant Jesus with these great truths before me. These statements are all true about this little one. Once again, I am plunged into mystery. The glory of this God is displayed in his conjunction of attributes and actions: humility wed with majesty; Love wed with holiness; Human wed with Divine.

As I reflect on this Christ, I long for him to be birthed in me anew. That he would grow and take shape in all my thoughts and actions, which are so ruined with corruption. To have this Jesus make his home in me until my most natural way of "being human" is at once a reflection of true humanity empowered by divinity.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Way of Christmas and The Way of Jesus

In a stellar essay entitled, "The Shipwrecked at the Stable" in his book Lion and Lamb: The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus, Brennan Manning clarifies our focus for the Christmas season:

"God entered our world not with the crushing impact of unbearable glory, but in the way of weakness, vulnerability, and need. On a wintry night in an obscure cave, the infant Jesus was a humble, naked, helpless God who allowed us to get close to Him.
. . . The Bethlehem mystery will ever be a scandal to aspiring disciples who seek a triumphant Savior and a prosperity Gospel. The infant Jesus was born in unimpressive circumstances, no one can say exactly where. His parents were of no social significance whatsoever, and His chosen welcoming committee were all turkeys, losers, and dirt-poor shepherds. But in this weakness and poverty the shipwrecked at the stable would come to know the love of God." (175-6)

The way in which Jesus came presents to us a way for us to live. As disciples, we need to pay attention not only to what Jesus said and what Jesus did but the way in which he came. If Jesus comes to us in brokenness and need, how can we come to him any other way than in brokenness and need? Are you shipwrecked at the stable? Do you kneel in wonder? Or do you rush by, gripping your packages and trusted propositions?

The infant Jesus calls us to a life of brokenness and need, away from power brokers into the obscurity of an unknown cave. This is what it means to be human, and God had to show it to us.

Loving Aslan More Than Jesus

The last time I read through the Narnia series (about a year ago) I remember thinking (with some measure of guilt) that I liked the character of Aslan more than I like Jesus. He seems more wild, dangerous, tender and free than the Jesus I am familiar with.

One concerned mother of a small child who said that he loved Aslan more than Jesus wrote to C.S. Lewis and asked his advice. The child's name was Laurence, and here is Lewis' response:

Laurence can't really love Aslan more than Jesus, even if he feels that's what he is doing. For the things he loves Aslan for doing or saying are simply the things Jesus really did and said. So that when Laurence thinks he is loving Aslan, he is really loving Jesus: and perhaps loving Him more than he ever did before. (Letters to Children, p. 52-53)

What I love about Aslan is what I love about Jesus. It's just that my view of Jesus is so messed up by my own sin, woundedness and religious baggage that the real Jesus in the Scriptures is obscured.

The figure of Aslan is able to sneak into my heart through the "back door" of the imagination more easily. In loving Aslan, I love Jesus.

(thanks to blogger Tyler Kenney for posting this quote.)

Thursday, December 09, 2010

There's More to the Story

Fellow brothers in the Reformed tradition often give a warning at this time of year: in celebrating the incarnation of Jesus, don't lose sight of his work on the cross. It is often put this way: "Jesus came (or was born) to die for sinners - never forget that." Now, I really couldn't agree more with this statement. It is because of sinners that a little baby showed up in Bethlehem. The messy business of redeeming sinners began in a messy stable. But I fear it could put us out of focus.

I would like to add to this truth a "counterbalancing" warning to not overshadow and marginalize the incarnation by running too quickly to the Cross. My gut tells me that some would rather pass over the baby at Bethlehem for the glories of the cross. It's easier to preach and easier to explain through propositional arguments. Generally, one would rather stand meditating on the sight of the cross than meditating on God as a baby in a feed trough.

But there is something about God coming to us as a vulnerable, needy baby that reformed people especially need to think on. The God of glory needs us to change his diapers. He is as inviting and approachable as any baby we encounter. What do we do with that?