The Word Became Flesh

On this Feast of Theophany, a description by Karl Barth of just what happened in the incarnation, and thus just what was revealed.

He did not cease to be the eternal Word of the eternal Father, Himself the one true God. But as this one true God He became flesh without reservation or diminution. He became man, true and actual man, man as he may be tempted and is tempted, man as he is subject to death and does actually die, man not only in his limitation but in the misery which is the consequence of his sin, man like us. This is how God is God–as the One who is free to do this and does it for His own sake, to put into effect His own almighty mercy, and therefore for our sake, who are in need of His mercy. The divine mercy, and in proof of it the inconceivably high and wonderful act of God, is that He becomes and is as we are. [CD IV/1, p. 418]

It is not paradoxical and absurd that God becomes man. It does not contradict the concept of God. It fulfils it. It reveals the glory of God. [p. 419]

 

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We Hear what We want to Hear

Peter’s speech in Acts 10:36:43 is pretty much the same way Peter and the other disciples have explained the Gospel all along. “Peace [comes] by Jesus Christ,” “He is the Lord of all,” Jesus was “anointed with power by the Holy Spirit,” he “went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil,” he died on the cross and was raised up, and the disciples were “commanded to preach to the people and testify that he is the one ordained by God.”

But while this sermon is all the same words, it’s completely different because Peter is talking to Gentiles who have never converted to Judaism. Until a few hours prior to this, Peter didn’t believe that was possible. But God gave him a dream to disturb his sleep, and Peter was man enough to recognize that he got it all wrong and he recognized that the Gospel was for everyone (as Paul would describe it later, Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female). As a result he is minutes away from baptizing the first Gentiles who have not first converted to Judaism into the Christian church.

Thus, the first two verses (34-35) that I didn’t include above are the critical ones. “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”

And this is the point of these weeks following Epiphany. Epiphany (Jan 6) is the twelfth and last day of the Christmas feast, when the Western Church celebrates the revelation of Christ to the Magi. It is preceded by Jesus’ Name Day (Jan 1) wherein it is revealed that this baby is the promised Savior (the meaning of the name Jesus, or Yeshua in Hebrew). This is followed in quick succession by celebrations of his baptism by John in the Jordan and his first miracle at Cana. It concludes (in the Revised Common Lectionary readings) on the Sunday before Lent with Jesus’ Transfiguration

In short, this is a period when hopefully we have the ears to hear the Gospel all over again, and this time, like Peter, actually hear it. Peter listened to Jesus for three years but he always put the message into his familiar categories and thus he thought of the Gospel as an improved Judaism and not something shatteringly new.

And this is what we do also; it’s not Peter’s failure, it’s a human failure. We come to the Gospel with a set of assumptions about how the world is, what its problems are, and how to fix them. And when we hear the Gospel we tend to hear something that improves what we already “know” is right.

This is why Christianity in East Texas sounds suspiciously like a Republican precinct meeting, while Christianity in Boston sounds suspiciously like the Democratic convention and Christianity in the Orange Mound neighborhood of Memphis sounds suspiciously like an NAACP rally. It’s why “Panos,” the YouTube character, is able to make such wicked fun of the Greeks and their weird marriage of culture and religion.

We hear what we want to hear.

Great preaching isn’t enough. We hear what we want to hear. Spiritual retreats and Bible seminars aren’t enough. We hear what we want to hear. Daily devotions aren’t enough. We hear what we want to hear. Maybe we all need to … if we dare … pray for a shattering dream that troubles our sleep. Maybe we need to “un-know” a lot of what we “know” is right. Maybe then, we can finally, like Peter, hear the Gospel.

That, my friends, would truly be an Epiphany!

Blessed and glorious Theophany to all!

“In other words, away with the manger!” (See below):

The Christian west calls today (Jan 6) Epiphany while the Christian east prefers to call it Theophany. As alluded to in my previous post, the west tends to focus on the revelation of Jesus Christ to the world through “the three mysteries” of which the coming of the magi is the most iconic image. The three mysteries, by the way, are “illumination” (the wise men following the star), “baptism” (the Baptism of the Lord, celebrated the following Sunday), and “eucharist” (Jesus’ first miracle – the water into wine), all of which reveal the babe in the manger to be the Second Person of the Triune Godhead.

The east, on the other hand, focuses almost exclusively on the Baptism of the Lord and the cosmic significance of water (the Old Testament symbol of chaos) being transformed into a saving thing. In Adam creation was turned against humanity; the good and perfect creation became, in a sense, the means of our destruction through Adam’s sin. In Jesus Christ, the last Adam, creation becomes the means of our salvation. To put the feast into the broader struggles of the ancient church, Theophany is the celebration of the nexus of Creator and created; it’s what keeps us from being Gnostic.

I revisit this topic with a second post today (the previous post is here) because of what Jason Peters wrote today over at The Front Porch Republic. Peters makes the two points of Theophany (ie, the Eastern version of this Feast) with such wonderful turns of phrase, I can’t help quoting him:

Now I would no more start of fight with a Unitarian than with a polytheist, a pantheist, or the Head Pastor and his hairdresser at FamilyChurchDotOrg. But one of the things the Church attempts to do here is to tell us that without a clear and resounding Trinitarianism we cannot properly understand ourselves. We cannot orient ourselves to our incarnate—which is to say our full and proper—condition.

Peters isn’t satisfied with mere theological profundities. He also emphasizes the implications of this profound theology:

In other words, away with the manger. Now is the time to get on with the business of renewing the whole created order.

His whole article can be found at http://www.frontporchrepublic.com/?p=7832