Thursday, December 18, 2008

INCARNATION

Our theme for Advent this year has been the Incarnation, and incarnational theology has sprung fully to life from the pulpit of the church I attend. We neglect this integrated approach to our spiritual lives at our peril. Pastor Bill Mack has been writing waayyy above his pay scale, sermons to delight and give thought. Here is a taste from last night's sermon, a copy of which I snatched from the pulpit before leaving church.

Joyfully rejoice in the Lord; after all, he clothes you in himself. That's the faith. Righteousness and salvation are worn, not earned. That's Christianity. He has clothed me with salvation clothes. In Hebrew, it says "Jesus robes." I don't mean robes that belong to Jesus. I mean robes that are Jesus. Jesus robes. "Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious...about your body, what you will put on. Is not...the body more than clothing?" (Mt. 6:25) Way more important! These bodies were made to wear salvation, to wear Jesus.
"The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light." (Rom. 13:12). What is "the armor of light"? Or shall I ask, who is the armor of light? [John] came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light." (Jn. 1). Jesus robes are the armor of light. "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ."
Receiving righteousness and salvation never looks like payday; it looks more like a wedding. "He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels." (Is. 61:10)...
...We know the garments of our own righteousness are filthy rags. We know we should "put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires." (Rom. 13:14)
So why don't we "joyfully rejoice in the Lord," why don't we let our being exult in our God at the prospect of being wrapped in the very righteousness who is God?...Because we possess that righteousness, by faith; not in a way that is appealing to our flesh. So we rejoice, but not joyfully. We may exult, sort of, but not with the full resolve of our being, our whole spirit, soul, and body that God the Lord created from the dirt. The call to rejoice in him for the garment of salvation that we can't feel and the robe of righteousness that we can't see is not enough to call up the faith to praise him and exult in him. That he said we are clothed in him and therefore blameless should be enough to make us rejoice. But it isn't enough for sinners who can't manufacture the faith to believe it. If you're a sinner like me, and you think it's up to you to somehow get that robe of righteousness on and make it fit, it isn't enough to make you rejoice.

But I know what is. "For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up. so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations." (Is. 61:11) How does righteousness spring forth like a garden plant? The same Isaiah told the wonder: "Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground." (Is 53:1-2).

Yes, righteousness turns out to be one blameless Man. But how does that righteousness get to me? How do I end up wearing it like a wedding garment? How do I end up blameless? Paul tells us, "Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it." (1Thess 5:23-24).
He will do it. God the Lord will clothe you in Himself, by clothing himself in you. That's the incarnation! This is not God possessing a man for a while. "And the angel answered her, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy--the Son of God," (Lk 1:35). The incarnation did not happen in Bethlehem, inside a stable. That was the nativity, the birth of Christ. The incarnation happened in Nazareth inside the Virgin Mary. That's why she said, "For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name" (Lk 1:48-49). There was never a human nature of Christ apart from the union with the divine nature of God who was always being fathered by God.
"For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily" (Col 2.9). This is God taking humanity up into himself; your humanity. "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth" (Jn 1:14). He wrapped himself in our humanity, he took our humanity into himself, into God!

But anyone who knows they are a sinner is waiting for the other shoe to drop. You may say, "God takes my humanity into himself. But there is more to me than just my humanity. I have my attachments. I have baggage. I have sins! Don't tell me he's wrapped himself in my sins too!" Yes, beloved. Your sins too. We call this His humiliation.
He says, "He will surely do it." One of the reasons God the Lord took our humanity into himself was to make himself killable, to make himself a ransom. When Isaiah wrote these words of Christ, "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me" (Is 61:1) that is a completely different thing than the incarnation of God the Son. Isaiah was talking about his office as Christ, anointed by the Spirit to bear the sins of the world. God the Holy Spirit was upon God the Son, who was already incarnate--very God--who had already taken our humanity into himself. And now he would wrap himself in our sins, too!

Today's Old Testament reading began, "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion--to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning" (Is 61:1-3).
To heal our brokenhearted humanity, our captive humanity, our humanity bound by sin, our humanity in mourning, our humanity in ashes. And so, "in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily," in him who came swaddled in strips of cloth, was bound and scourged and wrapped in our scarlet robe of shame, and wore a priestly headdress made of thorns, captive, mourning the Father's absence; our righteousness like a young plant sprouting up as he was crucified, and wrapped in our grave-clothes. Even risen from the dead, the only jewels Jesus was decked with were you.
And he exults in that! He will rejoice over you with loud singing!

And as the man who is God, Jesus dresses you in the comfort of salvation clothes that is he himself, the consolation of a robe of righteousness that is he himself, the beauty of wedding clothes you are going to need (may it be today!), and the joy that is he himself, bread and wine that is not only bread and wine, but his body and blood, and not just body and blood, but body and blood that has already been taken up into God. Now, here, for you: to take into yourself.
Amen.