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Psalm 19

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their measuring line goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them he has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy. Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat. The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults. Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.
(ESV)

God and the Impossible

Wednesday of Christmas 1

30 December 2015

The incarnation is impossible to fathom. How is it that God is conceived of the virgin Mary? How is it that there is a God-man who is laid in a manger, who needs His diapers changed, who bleeds when circumcised, who suffers when tormented, and who dies when crucified? None of these things are characteristics of God. Yet they are predicated of God who subsists in the flesh born of Mary. Often I hear people say they are unable to "see how" Christ could give His body under the bread in the Lord's Supper for us Christians to eat and to drink. For another example, some people will decline to believe that God created the universe in 6 twenty-four hour days. They deny these things not because of a particular interpretation of the biblical text, but because it doesn't fit with their particular worldview. They will say, "I know what it says, but I can't see how it is possible."
 
These and many other cavilings about the mysteries of the faith actually arise from several problems in their presuppositions. First, many people are really materialists. Materialism is the philosophy that there is nothing beyond this visible, measureable world. The materialist believes that we live in a closed system. Materialism denies there is anything beyond what can be seen, measured, or quantified. Most moderns are implicit materialists. What I mean is this, they believe that materialism is the intellectual default position. They won't believe anything they can't see. This runs completely counter to the claims of the Christian revelation of God's constant intervention into the world; and especially in His incarnate Son. When I say they are "implicit" materialists, I mean that this is a presupposition that they have not examined but is fed to them from their mother's knee. It is often uncritically taught and accepted by Christian churches. Many people believe in what has been called "the God of the gaps." They explain everything they can using so-called scientific explanations, and only when baffled are they willing to bring in God to explain what they themselves cannot understand. The God of the gaps is like the mud used to chink a log house; when we can't get the logs to fit snuggly enough we throw God into the chink.
 
Second, materialism aids and leads to the presupposition that I am the arbiter of what is possible and impossible for God. I might cut God a little slack and give Him His due, by suggesting that He might be able to change spiritual conditions, such as in my heart, but as we all know such spirituality is tantamount to changing nothing. Such airy-fairy spirituality denies that God is capable of changing the material conditions, such as in body and flesh. The God who is in charge of the gaps is in charge of very little or nothing.
 
Unfortunately, the pride of the human intellect rises to declare that there are no gaps. Humans will say that everything must be judged by what they can see, understand, or measure. Finally, then the incarnation itself becomes suspect, as it did to Arius centuries ago and as it does to theological liberals today. Implicit materialism will finally put to death all the unique teachings of the Christian revelation: incarnation, holy Trinity, the death of God's Son, the resurrection of the dead, and the return of Christ in judgment, etc. The real presence of Christ's body under the bread of the Lord's Supper is not more or less likely than that the Child in Mary's arms was God's eternal and only-begotten Son. Either God can do what you think to be impossible, or He is not God.

 

John Cassian
 
"The God-man, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is truly born for us of the Holy Ghost and the ever-virgin Mary. In the two natures the Word and flesh become one. So while each substance continues naturally perfect in itself, what is divine imparts without suffering any loss, to the humanity, and what is human participates in the divine. Nor is there one person God, and another person man, but the same person is God who is also man. The man who is also God is called and indeed is Jesus Christ the only Son of God. So we must always take care and believe so as not to deny that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Very God (whom we confess as existing ever with the Father and equal to the Father before all worlds) became from the moment when He took flesh the God-man. Nor may we imagine that gradually as time went on He became God, and that He was in one condition before the resurrection and in another after it, but that He was always of the same fullness and power."
 
"But because the Word of God determined to come down upon manhood by assuming manhood, and manhood was taken up into the Word by being assumed by God, God the Word in His completeness became complete man. For it was not God the Father who was made man, nor the Holy Spirit, but the Only-begotten of the Father. So we must hold that there is one person of the flesh and the Word. We must faithfully and without any doubt believe that one and the same Son of God, who can never be divided, exists in two natures in the days of His flesh who truly took upon Him all that belongs to man, and ever truly had as His own what belongs to God. Even though He was crucified in weakness, yet He lives by the power of God."

John Cassian, "The Confession of Leporus," Seven Books on the Incarnation of the Lord, 1.5
 
Prayer
Almighty God, our heavenly Father, grant that we might faithfully confess all that say You can do. Keep us from judging Your competence on the basis of our puny earthly standards. Show us through Your Word that You care for all things every day. Send us Your Holy Spirit that we might believe what You say unto life, rather than what we think. Amen.
 
For all those who are traveling in these days, that they might be kept safe and that their homecomings would be joyful
 
For all those who are seeking employment, that they would find work in keeping with their vocation for the service of community and family
 
For those who are suffering inclement weather, that the Lord their God would strengthen them and keep them safe in difficult conditions

Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias  Nativity c. 1515

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