Holy Houdini?
Friday of Advent 1
2 December 2016
Mark's Gospel portrays Christ as a wonder worker, who desires to hide His miraculous power from people. Christ recognized that the earthly-minded could easily take His ministry to be the work of a cosmic magician or a holy Houdini. He wants no such misunderstanding of His ministry to arise either then or now. Yet much that passes for extolling Christ today speaks of Christ as the wonder worker, treating Him as the last ditch doctor, or the advocate of the forlorn hope. When we have exhausted every other earthly support, when we have traveled every other avenue, we want Jesus to come and fix it, putting us back onto easy street. We wave the magic wand of prayer over our trouble when we can't think of what to do next, expecting Jesus to give us what we want, when we have been unable to get it by our own effort.
Jesus can fix all of it, but not the way we expect. He does it through the cross. There is more to the faith of Jesus Christ than believing He can work miracles. Perhaps that is the least of it. Every religion worth its salt claims to be able to fix things by healing the sick and overcoming earthly adversity. However, Christianity claims that Jesus is much more than a holy Houdini. He is God's Son, begotten of the Father before time. Such a deep confession of the nature of the Son and His relationship to the Father was bequeathed to the church by one of the twelve fishermen taught by Jesus. St. John tells us of the Word who was with God. The 'was' is an eternal was, not one circumscribed by time. So the full confession of Christ is not primarily found in His doing, but in the New Testament's confession of His eternally existing person.
We Christians may not merely preach what Jesus does, apart from who He is. For to know who He is to know the meaning of what He does. He dies, but not as a private person, but rather as the pre-existent Son of the Father, who clothes Himself in our flesh becoming a man to cleanse the flesh of all men. Every preacher can speak of Jesus as the wonder worker, but not every preacher confesses the true and full divinity of the Christ made flesh for us sinners. A holy Houdini would have come down off the cross after the requisite drum roll, giving us a good show for our money. Christ remains nailed there to save sinners, as thunder rolls, to give us salvation and paying the full cost Himself. 

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Hilary of Poitiers
"It remains to say something more concerning the mysterious generation of the Son; or rather this something more is everything. I quiver, I linger, my powers fail. I know not where to begin. I cannot tell the time of the Son's birth. It is impious not to be certain of the fact. Whom shall I entreat? Whom shall I call to my aid? From what books shall I borrow the terms needed to state so hard a problem? Shall I ransack the philosophy of Greece? No! I have read, 'Where is the wise? Where is the philosopher of this world?' (1Co 1:20). In this matter, then, the world's philosophers, the wise men of paganism, are unable to speak, for they have rejected the wisdom of God. Shall I turn to the Scribe of the law? He is in darkness, for the cross of Christ is an offense to him. Shall I, perchance, bid you shut your eyes to heresy, and pass it by in silence, on the ground that sufficient reverence is shown to Him whom we preach if we believe that lepers were cleansed, the deaf heard, the lame ran, the palsied stood, the blind (in general) received sight, the blind from his birth had eyes given to him , devils were routed, the sick recovered, the dead lived. The heretics confess all this, and perish.
"Look now to see a thing not less miraculous than lame men running, blind men seeing, the flight of devils, the life from the dead. There stands by my side, to guide me through the difficulties that I have enunciated, a poor fisherman, ignorant, uneducated, fishing-lines in hand, clothes dripping, muddy feet, every inch a sailor. Consider and decide whether it would be the greater feat to raise the dead or impart to an untrained mind the knowledge of mysteries so deep as he reveals by saying, 'In the beginning was the Word' (Jn 1:1). What does this 'In the beginning was' mean? He ranges backward over time, centuries are left behind, ages are cancelled. Fix in your mind what date you will for this beginning; you miss the mark, for even then He, of whom we are speaking, was. Survey the universe, note well what is written of it, 'In the beginning God made the heaven and the earth' (Gn 1:1). This word 'beginning' fixes the moment of creation; you can assign its date to an event that is definitely stated to have happened in the beginning. But this fisherman of mine, unlettered and unread, is untrammeled by time, undaunted by its immensity; he pierces beyond the beginning. For his 'was' has no limit of time and no commencement; the uncreated Word was in the beginning.
"But perhaps we shall find that our fisherman has been guilty of departure from the terms of the problem proposed for solution. He has set the Word free from the limitations of time; that which is free lives its own life and is bound to no obedience. Let us, therefore, pay our best attention to what follows: 'And the Word was with God.' We find that it is with God that the Word, which was before the beginning, exists unconditioned by time. The Word, which was, is with God. He who is absent when we seek for His origin in time is present all the while with the Creator of time. For this once our fisherman has escaped; perhaps he will succumb to the difficulties which await him."

Hilary of Poitiers, On the Trinity, 2.12-14
1 Corinthians

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart." Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Therefore, as it is written, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord."
Lord Jesus, begotten eternally of the Father, You have opened Your being to us in the sublime words of the fisherman, "The Word was with God." By Your Holy Spirit, grant that I might confess what I cannot fathom, speaking to the world of Your love so deep as to die for a sinner like me. Amen.
For troubled children, estranged from their parents, that they might be re-united in mercy and forgiveness
For the Luther Academy, that Christ the Good Shepherd would gives success to its work
For the family of John Behrendt, who will be laying his mortal remains to rest this day, that they would be encouraged by Christ's gift of the resurrection of the flesh
Art: VASARI, Giorgio Annunciation (1564-67)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2016
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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