Wednesday, December 25, 2019

The Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord - Christmas Day

John 1:1-18; Titus 3:4-7; Exodus 40:17-21; 34-38

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Finitum non capax infinitum – The finite cannot contain the infinite. With this saying, also known as the extra-calvinisticum, the French theologian John Calvin hoped to rebut Luther’s teaching concerning the Lord’s supper, insisting that God, who is infinite, filling heaven and earth, the Creator of all things material and immaterial, cannot possibly be contained within the finite and limited bread and wine in Holy Communion. Truly, one wants to sympathize with Calvin in so stridently attempting to preserve God’s sovereignty and utter transcendence, and to not attempt to limit God or to put God in a box, so to speak. However, if we are to take God at His Word, and surely we are, then has He not revealed to us that He has in fact limited Himself and placed Himself into a box, so to speak, because it was both necessary for our justification and for our reception of Him in faith and trust?
For, what does it mean that the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle, but that the infinite fullness of the Godhead took up residence within the finite four walls of the tabernacle which God Himself had commanded Moses to construct according to His precise specifications? And, what does it mean that God’s Word of creation, who was with God from the beginning, and who was Godby whom all things have been made – what does it mean that the infinite Word became flesh and dwelt among us, but that the infinite God has limited Himself and has placed Himself into a box, so to speak, that is, into finite human flesh, born of a woman in lowliness and humility?
Truly, it was not the doctrine of the real presence of our Lord’s body and blood in the Supper that was at stake so much as it was orthodox Christian doctrine and faith itself as Calvin claimed that “the Word is fully united to but never totally contained within the human nature [of Jesus] and, therefore, even in the incarnation is to be conceived of as beyond or outside of [extra] the human nature.” What then did St. Paul have in mind when he wrote of Jesus, “In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily”? Likewise, what did the Nicene Fathers have in mind when they formulated the Creed saying that Christ is “very God of very God, … being of one substance with the Father”? Did Calvin not see that, not only did God deliberately and intentionally limit Himself in becoming a finite man, but that God’s becoming man was absolutely necessary and essential for man’s justification?
Now, perhaps I am not being charitable to Calvin who, at least, had good intentions. For, he was not the first, and he certainly wasn’t the last, to attempt to use human reason and philosophy to understand and to demystify that which is truly a divine mystery beyond human understanding and reason – The mystery of the Incarnation of our Lord. That specific mystery, the Incarnation, is truly what we are celebrating this Christmas morning, of which St. John writes so profoundly in his Gospel Prologue, “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.”
The Incarnation is the divine mystery to which God had been pointing mankind since He walked with our First Parents in the Garden. Our Creator and God deigns to dwell and commune with us, His finite creatures. Therefore, when our First Parents rebelled and fell into sin and death, God put into action the plan He had established before they sinned, before their creation, even before the foundation of the heavens and the earth themselves: He would give us a son. He would give us His Son. And, in His Son, our God and Creator would become one of us, His finite creatures, and He would do all that was necessary to restore us, not only to stand in His holy presence, but to commune with Him forevermore – flesh of His flesh and bone of His bone.
Why didn’t Calvin get it? Charitably speaking, he probably did. It’s more likely, however, that he simply wouldn’t believe it could be that easy, that God would do such a thing, condescend in such a way as to take on finite human flesh and be born in lowliness and humility, to suffer and die. But, again, Calvin’s not alone. Gnostics had denied, and still do, that the infinite Divine Logos could take on finite and corruptible flesh, or could suffer and die. And, today, it is fashionable to blend New Age mysticism with Christianity, and maybe throw in a little Asian philosophy, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Zoroastrianism to boot. Is not the cliché of our day “I’m spiritual, but not religious”? By this, people mean that they believe in some sort of infinite spiritual reality, but they won’t be pressed to define it or confess it in any particular or finite way. That is, they won’t limit their gods or goddesses, or attempt to put them in a box.
Why is this so difficult for us to apprehend? Perhaps it is simply because of the fact that men are finite, because our minds are finite and limited, we simply cannot conceive of what God in His infinite wisdom and power might do. For, in truth, in our striving to protect and to preserve God’s sovereignty, are we not limiting Him and boxing Him in saying, “No God, you can’t mean that you are really and truly present in the Supper. That’s impossible! You must mean something else.” We shouldn’t be surprised that we don’t understand. This the writers of the Lutheran Confessions confessed of the Incarnation in the Formula of Concord saying, “In this personal union the two natures [of Christ] have such a grand, intimate, indescribable communion that even the angels are astonished by it.” Even the angels of heaven are astonished and mystified by God’s Wisdom and Power and Grace. We are so bound up in this material world and materialism, that we think more of the stuff of this world than we do the Creator of stuff, world, and all things in it. Because of the finite limitations of matter, we disbelieve the Word of our divine and infinite God.
Our problem is always a First Commandment problem – idolatry: Worshipping the creation instead of the Creator. We do this in two ways: Placing our fear, love, and trust in material things above and before God, or disbelieving God’s Word that He limits Himself and places Himself, where He has promised, in the stuff of His creation.
God so loved the world that He gave His only Son. The closest experience to that kind of love that we can experience this side of heaven is the birth of a child. As a child is conceived and born of your own flesh and blood, so that his existence and life is both from you and sustained by you, so God’s creation was brought forth from Himself. And, just as loving parents would not abandon or destroy their child who disobeyed and rebelled against them, but would discipline them and sacrifice their own right for love of the child, so God would not and could not destroy His creation or consign it to damnation, but He lovingly and mercifully, selflessly and sacrificially did what His justice and righteousness required to restore man to a right relationship with Himself.
The Incarnation of Our Lord is the re-creation and rebirth of man from the inside out. God has not merely spoken His Word to us, but He has spoken His Word into us. Where, before, there was God and man, separated from one another, now, in Jesus, God and man are in communion with one another. Our divine and infinite God has condescended to dwell within finite and limited man. The Word became flesh and made His dwelling amongst us. Jesus took His sinless body and soul to the cross, where He earned in His body and soul the wage of our sin and rebellion. He died and was buried, and on the third day God raised Him from the dead. He ascended into the heavens and sits at the right hand of God the Father. Now, our divine and infinite God, not only has taken up our human flesh and blood, but in our human flesh and blood He now, mysteriously, and without limitation, fills all things. Thus, He is really and truly present in the Holy Supper, in His resurrected and glorified body and blood. And, thus, we commune with the living Christ, in whom dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. On the Last Day, He will come again in His human flesh and blood body and He will raise our flesh and blood bodies from their sleep and glorify our bodies like His own glorified body to live with Him and the Father and the Holy Spirit in heaven forevermore.
The Incarnation of Our Lord is the true and perfect gift of Christmas. This is most certainly true.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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