Incarnation and Young People
John of Damascus, Theologian and Hymnwriter
4 December 2017
How do we make the incarnation real for people? Well, for starters, we don't make it real. It's real all on its own. The sublime fact that the Word became flesh (Jn 1:14), can't be made any more real than it is, just as we cannot make the end of World War II any more real than it already is. But the story of the cessation of horrible hostilities needs to be told again to a new generation. So it is for the good news that the hostilities between humans and God have been brought to a conclusion through the incarnation and everything that proceeded from that en-fleshment of God.
 
The shock of the incarnation needs be reinforced; the claim that God has become flesh. How do you place the young people into the midst of that incarnation of God? How does that shock sweep them off their feet? Young people are for better or for worse creatures of the flesh: active, energetic, masters of their bodies. They have exceptional abilities as athletes, which will never be more finely honed. We ought to emphasize the "bodily awareness" that was adopted by Christ through the incarnation. So we have not just warm and homey pictures of the incarnation, with crèche and manger or a scene of the baby in his mother's arms. St. Athanasius' great work "On the Incarnation" has no such warm and cuddly depiction in its pages, but he emphasized the brute facts of the incarnation and what it accomplished for creatures of flesh like us and our children. We must avoid a syrupy sentimentalizing of the Christmas message. There is a certain sublime joy in the full embrace of human capacity and the joy of the body, a body created by God in Eden. God Himself reclaims the full and proper use of the flesh through the coming of His Son in that flesh born of the Virgin Mary. Creation is all new through it. The lion of rampaging flesh is tamed by the flesh of the lamb, who lay down together (Is 11:6-7).
 
A great deal of what is trooped out as Christianity leads people to believe that it is a religion of moral principles; principles, thought occasionally to be quirky, but not much different from the morality of Islam, Judaism, or any other religion. If that is the case, what could possibly compel a young person (or any person) to take up Christianity? What distinguishes Christianity from any other moral code? In one way, almost nothing. However, Christianity is not a moral code; it is the confession that God has become man in Christ. We have a God who is passionately in love with us, so much so that He is willing to take our flesh and suffer for us. For this reason, the church needs to emphasize the passion of God over our piety. Where mere piety has triumphed over God's passion for us, God's passionate act of incarnation will no longer be understood. What does this enfleshment of God have to do with a set of bloodless, or shall we say disembodied, principles for your life? We must confess the shocking and irreducible reality of the incarnation of God in Christ. In the incarnation there is deep mystery not able to be distilled down to a set of four principles, or seven spiritual laws, or 40 days of whatever. Christ is an irreducible, brute fact.
 
We shall never argue or "spiritual law" anyone into Christ. Christ will overtake those to whom the Word of God has come. Our young people see the ugliness in the world in the rampant pornography, violence, and darkness that is overshadowing their lives. God sees it too and takes on that ugliness in Christ, who was made flesh of the Virgin Mary.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   John Chrysostom
"Christ became a slave for you. 'having taken the form of a slave,' (Phil 2:7) and was crucified, and rose again. And when for this reason you ought to adore Him risen and admire His loving kindness; because what neither father, nor friend, nor son did for you, all this the Lord wrought for you, the enemy and offender. When, I say, you ought to admire Him for these things, and you call that foolishness, where is your great wisdom? Well, it is nothing too great, for it is a mark of those who perish not to recognize the things that lead to salvation. Therefore, do not be troubled for it is no strange or peculiar event, that things truly great are mocked by those who are beside themselves. Now those who are in this mind you cannot convince by human wisdom. If you try to convince them, you do the opposite. For the things which transcend reasoning require faith alone. Thus, if we set about convincing men by reasoning, how God became man, and entered into the Virgin's womb, and not commit the matter to faith, they will ridicule us all the more. Therefore they who inquire by reasoning, it is they who perish.
 
"And why do I speak of the incarnation? For in regard to created things, should we do this, great derision will ensue. For suppose a man, wishing to make out all things by reason; and tries by your method of discussion to convince himself how we see the light; will you convince him by your reasoning? No, you cannot. For if you say that it suffices to see by opening the eyes, you have not expressed the manner of seeing, but the fact of sight. For someone might say, 'why do we not see by our hearing, and hear with our eyes? And why do we not hear with the nostril, and smell with the ear?' If while he is in doubt about these things and begins laughing, because we unable to give the explanation of them, and he says, 'Since both have their origin from one brain, and since the two members are near neighbors to each other, why can they not do the same work?' shall we not rather laugh him to scorn? But we shall not be able to state the cause nor the method of the unspeakable and curious operation of the human senses; and should we make the attempt, we should be laughed to scorn. Therefore, leaving this unto God's power and boundless wisdom, let us be silent.
 
"Just so with regard to the things of God. Should we desire to explain them by human wisdom, great derision will ensue, not from their weakness, but from the folly of men. For the greatest things no language can explain."

 John Chrysostom, Homilies on 1 Corinthians, 4.2
Isaiah 11:1-10

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins. The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples- of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious. (ESV)
Prayer
Stir up Your power, O Lord, and come, that we might be rescued from the threatening perils of our sins and redeemed by Your capturing of our flesh of Mary. Amen.
 
For those who are already feeling the burdens and anxieties of preparation for the Feast of Christmas, that the Prince of peace would grant true spiritual peace to them in the Advent season of patient waiting
 
For the Luther Academy as it supports Lutheran confessional teaching the world over, that the Lord would bless the proclamation of the gospel truth
 
For Herbert Mueller, Sr., the first vice president of the LCMS, that he might be upheld in every good deed
Art: JANSSENS, Jan  The Annunciation (17th c.)
Memorial Lutheran Church
smurray@mlchouston.org
http://www.mlchouston.org
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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