Christmas Proclamation

John Nunes
Thursday, May 3rd 2007
Nov/Dec 2004

In the "Advent" portion of his poetic oratorio, W. H. Auden chiseled words about the Word becoming flesh:

We who must die demand a miracle.
How could the Eternal do a temporal act,
The Infinite become a finite fact?
Nothing can save us that is possible:
We who must die demand a miracle.

Captured here is a miraculous truth: that to save us, God's infinite Son emptied himself, humbled himself (Phil. 2:6-8), even placing himself under human reproductive processes (Gal. 4:4). This is the miracle we dying ones demand. Beware of this word demand! We dare not claim to make any claim on God. Rather, by demand we mean that without the Father's intervention, our fatally flawed condition is irreversible.

God did exactly that-directly intervening. Impossible! God who cannot die personally entering the human drama of death. This specter of impossibility hangs behind Abraham's rhetorical question, "Is anything too hard for the Lord?" (Gen.18:14). This confidence echoes in Jesus' response to Peter and the mystified disciples: "with God all things are possible" (Matt. 19:26); this truth sounds stunningly similar to the Virgin Mary's faith-filled acclamation: "For nothing will be impossible with God" (Luke 1:37). The miracle of Christmas forms the matrix of this impossibility.

This world's system has not only skewed the meaning of Christmas, it has also high-jacked and demeaned the meaning of these biblical references about the impossible. The Holy Spirit meant these verses to direct us to Bethlehem, God's ultimate impossibility: the breaking-in that redeemed a sin-wrecked humanity. Our sin is not a minor misstep, nor a psychological quirk, nor a slight slip up, nor a fleeting episode. Sin kills. Catastrophically! Cataclysmically! Completely! Self-recovery is impossible.

In the inner city community where my wife, Monique, is Lutheran school principal, Olivia Neubauer is renowned for teaching reading to kindergarteners as a very veteran teacher. I say very because, though born in 1912, Mrs. Neubauer effectively and actively teaches at 93 years of age. Amazing? Certainly, but certainly not scientifically impossible. It's nothing like conceiving a child as a nonagenarian like Sarah, or becoming a mother as a teenage virgin like Mary. Sarah was definitely post menopausal. Her Abraham was way past the peak of potency. In terms of fertility, this couple had expired. Abraham, the archetype of hope, fell to the ground in hysteric laughter at the apparently impossible promise that their good-as-dead bodies would produce offspring as plenteous and prodigious as the stars in the sky.

Yet, in spite of what Abraham and Sarah endured, their "miracle" wasn't at all about reproductive capacity, but was about seed–that collective noun pointing directly to Jesus–"Come O long expected Jesus, Born to set your people free." Come to us, totally exiled from God with no way back. Except, praise God, Jesus made a way out of no way. "So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:36). No liberating miracle deserves louder proclamation: We were banished by sin until God himself became our cosmic emancipator.

Yet there are some who domesticate this enormous salvation. "For God all things are possible" does not describe God making our impossible financial dreams come true; or God helping us succeed relationally against impossible odds; or God cosigning on our hopes for physical healing to the extent that he violates his own natural order in order to "bless" us. Yes, God indeed blesses us; and yes, God does heal, God does care about our down-to-earth needs; yes, all good comes from God; but no, the first, best, and greatest success we need achieved for us is freedom from killer sin.

Mary knew, by faith, when the power of the Most High overshadowed her (Luke 1:35) it was not to bring celebrity status or to give her future popularity replete with streams of "Hail Marys." Her only purpose was God's saving agenda, in spite of impossibility, or unpopularity, or cost, or consequences. Can you imagine the cold-hearted attitudes some had about Mary when she reported her "premature" pregnancy? "Yeah right, you haven't 'been with' a man yet. Now you say the Messiah is gestating within you." Since Mary was fully human, like us, Jesus was like any other child-except for disobedience. But because God the Holy Spirit was the conceiver, Jesus was fully the Son of God-which is why humble Mary is rightly called "the Mother of God." Impossible! Ah yes, here's where it applies: "For nothing will be impossible with God."

Annually, this world's system misrepresents Christmas. Scripture is epidemically misinterpreted. The Messiah is missed altogether. But ethicist Samuel Gregg has reminded us, the "primary way of combating the system is choose to live in truth-whatever the consequences." By faith, Abraham, Peter and Mary-and we-ultimately choose to glorify God, even when we are mired in life's systemic maze of dire impossibilities.

John Calvin sums up, "Let us remember that we are all in the same condition… Our circumstances are all in opposition to the promises of God. He promises us eternal life, yet we are surrounded by death; He declares that He considers us justified; yet we are still covered with sins. He testifies that He is forgiving and good towards us; yet outwardly all we see is His anger. What then are we to do? We must close our eyes, and disregard ourselves so that nothing may prevent us from believing that God is true."

We believe God through seeming impossibilities because not one word has failed of all the good things that the Lord our God promised concerning us (Josh. 23:14). And since Jesus was born, was crucified, and was resurrected for us, wrong people like us are born into a right relationship with God; dead people like us are born again by the Word from above; detached people like us are reattached to the family of God through baptism; shadowy people like us are overshadowed by the Holy Spirit making us shine with the glory of God; righteous-less people like us have born within us the very righteousness of God. Mary was right: "For nothing will be impossible with God."

Thursday, May 3rd 2007

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

Picture of J. Ligon Duncan, IIIJ. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church
Magazine Covers; Embodiment & Technology