Sunday, December 25, 2011

Veiled in Flesh the Godhead See

Christmas is a time that brings mixed emotions to me. I was raised as a Jehovah's Witness, and I never celebrated Christmas until I was 22. That first Christmas was awesome. I felt something akin to what Ebenezer Scrooge felt after his awakening in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. For the first time the joy, the peace, the reason for Christmas was very clear to me. Since then I have loved Christmas. But it is during Christmas that I also think of the family that is still lost in the Jehovah's Witness cult. Nearly all of my family is involved in that cult, and I feel so sad for them. I am trusting in God to rescue them from their servitude to that cult. It appears more and more that the Jehovah's Witness cult is crumbling. That, however, is the topic on another post.

What I want to talk about today is the theology of Christmas: the incarnation of Jesus. I want to do this using a portion of lyrics from Hark the Herald Angel Sings.

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hail incarnate Deity.

This lyric appears to be a distilled version of John 1:1-14; the Christmas story without the angels, the star, the magi, the shepherds, the manger, etc. This is the theology of Christmas. That Creator condescended and became His creation. I don’t know about you, but I find this jaw dropping! Why would God do this? Not only the condescension of incarnation, but the ultimate insult, allowing Himself to be nailed to a Roman cross some 33 years after the first Christmas! This is the miracle of Christmas. This is John’s Christmas story.

John tells in four simple words, “The Word became flesh”. In the most humble of surroundings of a barn, the Creator of heaven and earth entered time and space. This is what makes Christianity different from all other religions. Our God, in His effort to save His fallen creation, came to earth.

He did this because we can in no way establish a righteousness that is perfect. Our actions, our words and our thoughts are stained with sin. The Apostle Paul, in his magnum opus on the gospel of Jesus Christ, the book of Romans, quotes from the Old Testament with this stinging indictment on humanity:

There is no one righteous, not even one, there is no one who understands, there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, together they have become worthless; there is no one who shows kindness, not even one. Their throats are open graves, they deceive with their tongues, the poison of asps is under their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood, ruin and misery are in their paths, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes. (Romans 3:10-18, NET).

Now, I realize that some of you reading this may be shocked to find out that this is what the Bible actually says about you (please don’t trip when I say “you”, because I am in the same boat with you). Perhaps you attend a church that doesn’t teach that you are a sinner. Perhaps they teach you that you simply have made bad decisions, and that if you simply follow the principles they will educate you with you can live your best life now? Or perhaps the pastor of your church teaches that your problem is not sin, but damaged emotions? Or perhaps you have been taught that the reason Jesus came to earth was to teach you how to have health and wealth in this life? If the church you attend does not teach you that you are a sinner in need of a savior then they are robbing you, and your eternal soul is in danger (Matthew 23:15).

The reason that God condescended into flesh, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth was to live the life that you could not live; a life of perfect obedience to God’s Law in action, word and thought. As an aside, Jesus did not accomplish this because he was devoted to prayer and fasting, as I once heard from the pulpit of a church. No, Jesus accomplished perfection because He was perfect. Jesus’ life was not an example for us to follow either. Jesus life was, no, is the life we receive credit for as a result of his resurrection (Romans 4:25). In return for His perfect life, Jesus was burdened with all our sin! It was on the cross that Jesus received the full punishment for our depravity. This punishment does not make salvation possible, but secures it for each and every person that believes.

God became flesh in order for Him to feel temptation. In the wilderness after his 40 day fast, from the desires of others, in the garden, and at other times Jesus felt temptation. Yet He was without sin (Hebrew 4:15). Yes, He knows everything about us. He faced temptation, stared it in the eye and vanquished it. He did this not as an example for his followers to emulate. He did not do it through the power of prayer and fasting. He did it because hidden in the flesh of Jesus was all the fullness of God (Colossians 2:9).

This is the theology of Christmas. It is simple, and to the point, but don’t let that fool you. The Gospel is simple. Yet within it there are some of the most profound and deep ideas that the human mind could never think up (2 Corinthians 2:9).

My message to you this Christmas is simple. Know who you are honoring today. He may have come the first time in a manger, but he will return again riding a warhorse and dressed in all-white. Why all-white? Because He’s not going to get bloody! So today, as you reflect on the birth of our Savior, do not just reflect on him as a baby in a manger, but as the Most High God wrapped in human flesh.

Hark! the herald angels sing, 
"Glory to the new born King, 
peace on earth, and mercy mild, 
God and sinners reconciled!" 
Joyful, all ye nations rise, 
join the triumph of the skies; 
with th' angelic host proclaim, 
"Christ is born in Bethlehem!" 

Hark! the herald angels sing, 
"Glory to the new born King!" 
Christ, by highest heaven adored; 
Christ, the everlasting Lord; 
late in time behold him come, 
offspring of a virgin's womb. 
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; 
hail th' incarnate Deity, 
pleased with us in flesh to dwell, 
Jesus, our Emmanuel. 

Hark! the herald angels sing, 
"Glory to the new born King!" 
Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace! 
Hail the Sun of Righteousness! 
Light and life to all he brings, 
risen with healing in his wings. 
Mild he lays his glory by, 
born that we no more may die, 
born to raise us from the earth, 
born to give us second birth. 
Hark! the herald angels sing, 
"Glory to the new born King!" 

Music by Felix Mendelssohn. Lyrics by Charles Wesley

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