Monday, December 08, 2014

"Is Born This Day"

Below is my homily from Chapel PCA's Advent Service, to which I was graciously invited by Pastor John Gardner.  The Incarnation changes everything.


When God the Father fashioned the mud into the likeness of the Image of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, He honored His creation in its physicality, in its separateness from Himself.  There is a distinction, which can never be confused, between the Uncreated God and created man.  God could, by His grace, unite Himself to that creation and thereby glorify it, which St Paul in the book of Romans says it our ultimate end (5:2, 8:30, etc.).  Man, through Adam and Eve, added a further distinction, though, a tragic one: through sin they broke the communion between God and themselves, introducing death into the world.  They who were to partake of the Glory of God, which is His eternal Life, instead began to sup with death, corrupting not only their minds and souls, but their bodies as well.  The constant refrain of the book of Genesis is “and so he died.”  God is Life, Existence, Being Himself, in whom dwells no death.  He is Holy.  And so God instituted, first through types and symbols, His redemption of His creation by becoming human so that He “might taste death for everyone” and that “through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:9, 14).  The advent of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ, is for us the beginning of holiness, the holiness that is our salvation.

There is a wonderful scene in Luke’s Gospel in which our Lord is traveling to raise a young girl from the dead.  As he passes through the crowds, He feels power go out from Him.  It turns out a woman with an unstoppable blood flow had reached out and touched His garments.  For the crowds, this would have been horrifying: ritual pollution, the effect of both death and sin, would pass from the unclean and make any who were clean desecrated.  Such is what had been revealed in the Law of Moses.  However, in this case, the reverse happened: the blood flow was dammed and Christ remained clean.  The Holy One was cleansing the whole world of sin and death and their corruptive effects by His coming among us.  His taking on of physical human nature, body, mind, will, activity, brought the purgation of our sins and of death itself.  The implications of this were not unknown to the early teachers of the Church:

He therefore passed through every age becoming an infant for infants, thus sanctifying infants; a child for children, thus sanctifying those who are of this age, being at the same time made to them an example of piety, righteousness, and submission; a youth for youths becoming an example to youths, and thus sanctifying them for the Lord. So likewise, He was an elder for elders, that he might be a perfect master for all, not merely as respects the setting forth of the truth, but also as regards that age, sanctifying at the same time the aged also and becoming likewise an example to them. Then, at the last, He came unto death itself, that he might be the firstborn of the dead, that in all things he might have the preeminence, “the Prince of Life,” existing before all and going before all (St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 2, Chapter 22, Section 4).

All stages of life “under the sun” have been remade through Christ’s presence in the flesh.  Through His virginal conception and birth, He has sanctified marriage, motherhood, and virginity.  Through His infancy and childhood, His adolescence and adulthood, He has sanctified those and shown us how to live “soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age” (Tit. 2:11).  He has sanctified water at His baptism, bread and wine in His offering of Himself to us, and all the “trees of the Lord” (Ps. 104:16) have been blessed by His crucifixion.  Most of all, though, He has harrowed and hallowed death by His sinless residence and resurrection from there.  Now He, who knew no sin (2 Cor. 5:21) and therefore was not under the dominion of death, has risen with His flesh for our salvation.  We can, St Paul tell us, partake of this holiness, this freedom from death, through faith exercised in baptism: “Or do you not know that as many of us were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?  Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the Glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3-4).

Christ’s birth, the Uncreated as the created, the divine as the human, is the fulfillment of Zechariah’s great prophecy: “In that day, HOLINESS TO THE LORD shall be engraved on the bells of the horses.  The pots in the Lord’s house shall be like the bowls before the altar.  Yes, every pot in Jerusalem and Judah shall be HOLINESS TO THE LORD OF HOSTS.  Everyone who sacrifices shall come and take them and cook in them.  In that day there shall no longer be a Canaanite in the house of the Lord of Hosts” (14:20-21).  If the Lord makes the pots and pans and horse bells holy, how much more us, who with great expectation celebrate His coming among us to liberate us from death and sin, the cosmic Canaanites?  Praise God for His honoring and blessing of all created reality in the enfleshing nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ!  Amen.

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