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Happy Incarnation-Fest

Dear Christmas Preachers,

Did you know that Christmas is about the incarnation?  No, but seriously, did you?  Cos I aint hearing much theology of incarnation.  Which is odd, don't you think?

Visiting the worthy sermon repositories in England and the US, I've listened to dozens of "Christmas sermons" over advent.   Yet I've found that, if the incarnation is mentioned at all, it's mentioned as a stark fact - something merely to wrap our heads around: "God in skin. Weird huh? Anyway..."

Or as an excuse to talk up 'history': "Jesus shows up in time and space which means that we can verify the truth through historical methods, and really the New Testament documents are very reliable don't you know..."

Or as a line in some Anselmian argument: "God basically wants to acquit his elect and so needs a Scapegoat to take the fall. So there he is the manger. Weird huh?  Anyway..."

In my experience, even that kind of mention is about as incarnation-y as it gets for your average Christmas sermon.

Where is the whole "He became what we are, that we might become what He is"?  (Are we so functionally unitarian that we can't really make Athanasius work for us?)  Where is a theology of God-with-us?  (Are we so Latin in our theology of the atonement  that ontology seems irrelevant to the question?)  Where do we exult in the "divine-self-emptying"?  (Are we so wedded to a theology of glory that we refuse to countenance the little LORD Jesus?).

Anyway, it's Thawed-Out-Thursday so here's an old article on Incarnation from the 'freezer' (and links to two more).  The three are:

Incarnation and Trinity

Incarnation and Creation

Incarnation and Salvation

(And for good measure here's a paper on Athanasius and Irenaeus)

Below is Incarnation and Creation.  Have a read.  Or, much much better, go and read On the Incarnation.  Seriously, it'll make your Christmas!

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Christ is "The Beginning", "The Alpha", "The First".  His Person is itself the basis for creation.  He is the One who is eternally Other from the Father and the foundation for all else that is other than Him.  Because of Him, through Him and for Him flows a creation.

Christ is by nature and eternally from the Father in the Spirit.

Creation is by grace and in time from the Father through the Son and in the Spirit.

This shows us

a) the spreading goodness of the triune God, Whose being is outwardly curved.  Creation is not necessary to God.  But God's being, like a fountain, by nature overflows.  It is a being going out towards the other.

b) creation is not a free floating reality but something beginning in the Son, crafted by Him, cohering in Him and headed towards Him as His inheritance.  While God's being reaches out towards the other it is simultaneously a being that draws the other in bonds of love.

These twin tendencies - the going out and the drawing in - find fulfilment in creation and incarnation.

Let's think about Genesis 1.  The heavens (masculine) and the earth (feminine) - like head and body, husband and wife - set the scene for this theatre of God's glory.  And centre stage is man - Adam made from the Adamah (the ground).  He is not spoken into being.  This man of dust (Gen 2:7) is made of the very stuff of the earth - drawn up, pinched off like clay and breathed into.  The earth-man is strongly united to the earth over which he is placed as head.

Adam means

a) that particular bloke;

b) 'a man' (a true human being) and

c) 'humanity' (as a whole).

This central actor - man - is king.  He is God's ruler, through whom He exercises dominion.  From the outset God's rule is a mediated rule - through man.

Now when man is disobedient you may have thought that God would renege on His determination to rule through man.  But no.  He takes this mediation through man very seriously.  It is because of the cosmic kingship of man that man's fall entails the fall of all creation.  The ground (adamah) is cursed because of man (adam).  Man remains king.  But while man is perverse, so is his world.

But all of this looks towards the Man of Heaven (1 Cor 15:47-49).  Flesh and blood could never inherit the kingdom of God.  Men of dust were never the intention.  The intention was always the union of heavenly Man and earthly man.  The intention was always for the Logos to take this flesh and as Man to rule as God's true king.  This rule was not to be a divine rule over and against man.  It was to be a heavenly rule in and through man.

And so came the eschatological Adam (1 Cor 15:45).  He is

a) that particular bloke, Jesus;

b) 'a man' (a true human being) and

c) 'humanity' (an eschatological humanity to answer Adam's)

He sums up the man of dust, his being and life.  He takes His very flesh and retraces the steps of his disobedience, hammering out instead a being and life of perfect faithfulness.  Then, exalted as the pinnacle of all creation, this eschatological Adam is lifted up between heaven and earth - absorbing the curse of both and reconciling one to the other.  As Priest He ministers by the Spirit, offering to God the true worship of earth (Heb 9:14).  As Lamb He receives the curse of God on behalf of man (Gal 3:13).  As King, He reigns from the tree, manifesting God's righteous rule to the ends of the earth.

Ascending as Priest, Lamb and King to the Father's right hand, Jesus has lead captives in His train and sat down as Head over all things for the church.  The True Man, our Brother, sits in heaven as ruler of earth, not over against earth.  Rather, having taken Adam (and in him, adamah!) to Himself, He rules as and for man for all eternity.  When the heavenly Husband (masculine) moves house with His Father to earth (feminine) there will be the Marriage to end all marriages.  The manifested union of Bridegroom and bride will be at the same time the manifested union of heaven and earth.  Christ and creation will be consummated that day.

As Alpha, Christ has crafted a creation and granted it a gracious otherness.

As Omega, He has entered in and drawn back that creation to a gracious oneness.

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see also:

Incarnation and Trinity

Incarnation and Salvation

0 thoughts on “Happy Incarnation-Fest

  1. Keith

    Thanks Glen for another smorgasbord for mind and soul ... And for the extra copies of TKE, which arrived a couple of hours ago

  2. si

    Hi Glen, you are right. I've come relatively recently to the 'he became what we are so we could become what he is' and it has transformed my thinking on the incarnation. I wonder if it is through a lack of awareness of writings by the Church Father's who made a lot of it (although I have to admit I have not delved far into this stuff!) Also, I know some people are suspicious, because they see the Trinitarian theology of Barth, the Torrances, Gunton etc which has pushed this as not Reformed enough and even 'bandy' around accusations of universalism because of the rejection of limited atonement which is tied up with their view of the incarnation.

  3. day care yorba linda

    No words...just a awesome post.thank you so much glen for giving such a divine power to heart and mind by each sentence in your post. I specially love the paragraph "Christ is “The Beginning”, “The Alpha”, “The First”.....".Your each blog takes us more close to the Jesus and spirituality..

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