Enfleshed for Good
Last night I postponed dealing with the weightier things of Christmas because Christmas Eve is a time when even those who find the Word of God boring or a burden come to church. Can you believe I said that? I'm only paraphrasing what Augustine said 1600 years ago. He said, speaking of Christmas, "Many, even those who find the Word of God burdensome, were with us to celebrate the festivities usual on that day. But now I suppose, only such have come here as desire to hear a sermon. We are not, therefore, speaking to hearts that our deaf, nor to minds that are bored." Today we can deal with the deep things of Christmas. The incarnation, God the Son taking on flesh and dwelling among us, God being enfleshed for good.
Christmas is the celebration not of family and friends, of food and drink, of presents and peace, but of God the Son being enfleshed for good, for the good of our salvation. Since the Fall man had been separated from God by the chasm of sinfulness. How could these two be brought back together? In order to bridge any gap, the bridge must reach both sides. So in order to be the bridge, it was not enough that Christ be God. He must also be Man.
In order to bridge the gap, to reunite God and man, the Law that condemns us had to be kept, and our debt of sin had to be paid. God Almighty could easily fulfill the Law, but being God He was under no Law. As God whatever He thought, said, or did was lawful. So in order to take our place under the requirements of the Law, He had to be true Man. As Paul tells us in Galatians, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law to redeem those under the Law.
Not only did the Law that condemns us need keeping, our debt of sin needed to be paid. This too is easy for God. He is rich enough to pay off any debt. However, without blood being shed, there can be no forgiveness says the Book of Hebrews. God is spirit. Spirit's have no flesh, no bones, no blood. Not only must blood be shed, but there must be a death, since God Himself had promised, "The soul that sins shall die." But how could God who is life die? As God, He has no beginning and no end. So in order to pay our debt of sin by bleeding and dying, God the Son took on flesh, blood and mortality in the womb of Mary. As Hebrews 2 tells us, Jesus was made for a little while lower than the angels that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.
This is the simple truth about the enfleshment of God for good. The enfleshment of God is the basic truth of Christmas. Anyone who calls himself a Christian knows this much. But there are deeper things here. Things we seldom take the time to explore and relish. When I say that God the Son was enfleshed for good, I mean that in a double sense not just for our good but for good as in all time. Once God the Son takes on flesh in the womb of Mary He never, ever takes it off again. Wherever you put God, you must place the Man Jesus since Christmas. Does God reign and rule in heaven? So does the Man Jesus. Is God everywhere? So is the Man Jesus. Whatever you say about God, you must also say about the Man Jesus since Christmas.
A part of Christianity denies these truths in their official confessions of faith, but there are many Christians who deny these things in life. They are always trying to look behind the womb of the virgin Mary, behind the manger, behind the cross. To them, what's going on in the womb of Mary is not the big deal, no there is something bigger and more important going on in heaven. The manger is not the real story. The real story is in the secret workings of God. Not even the cross where Christ dies is their main focus. No, even here there is something bigger and grander going on than the gory, bloody events of the cross.
But there is not. There is no bigger or grander working of God than what you see Him doing in Mary's womb, in the manger, or on the cross. There is no secret hidden God behind Jesus that we are suppose to finally get to. Let me rephrase that, there is hidden God; there is God who cloaks Himself in light unapproachable and in fire consuming. There is a God who hides Himself behind cruel disasters, devastating cancers, and callous deaths of all kinds. But we are to have nothing to do with this God. We are not to try to approach God in His majesty, in His sovereignty, in His glory. We are to approach God only in Jesus.
Hear how dogmatic Luther was about this point. "Apart from Christ, there is no God." "Apart from Christ there is simply no God or Godhead at all." "Apart from this Man there is no God." These statements come from 2 different writings of Luther. Hear from yet another: "I have no God, whether in heaven or earth, I know of none, outside of the flesh that lies in the bosom of the Virgin Mary. For elsewhere God is utterly incomprehensible, but comprehensible in the flesh of Christ alone."
God is incomprehensible apart from the flesh of Christ? Do you know what that means? God is meaningless apart from Christ. We must repent of thinking that the events of Christmas are just a nice little story to tell kids. We must repent of continually trying to approach God apart from Christ. Expecting Him to be everywhere but in our Baptism. Looking for Him in our thoughts and feelings about Him rather than in the Words of Absolution that sound in our ears. Looking for Him far above us in the heavens and not on our altar, in our hands, and in our mouths in the Holy Communion.
We must repent dear friends of thinking that the enfleshment of God is just one doctrine among many others. This is what the apostles did. Jesus says to them in John 14, "You believe in God, believe also in Me." Philip says, "Show us the Father and that's enough." You see they thought there was a bigger, grander God apart from Jesus. If they could just see that God, they could live and die in peace. Jesus replied, and it must have been in a sad voice, "Have I been so long among you and you still don't recognize Me? He who has seen Me has seen the Father." Paul repeats this same truth in a slightly different manner when he says to the Colossians, "All the fulness of the Godhead dwells bodily in Christ."
That means when Mary held Jesus, she held God. When Mary nursed Jesus, she nursed God. When Mary changed Jesus, she changed God. The enfleshment of God means that God's feet touched the same earth as mine do. My God looked up in wonder at the same moon as I do. My God knows what it's like to have indigestion, colds, flu, heartache and heartbreak. Don't think so? What else does it means when the Scriptures say that He bore not only our sins, but our sorrows and our sicknesses? Do you think that means God in flesh bore them only in some spiritual way? Didn't Jesus really hunger for food? Wasn't He really tired and so slept? Wasn't His soul really sorrowful unto death? Then, of course, He really had the sicknesses and infirmities that plague these bodies of ours.
God the Son was enfleshed for our good so that we might never again have to know, think or deal with God apart from the Man Jesus. Aren't you tired of doing that? I am. I always find myself having to apologize for God in His majesty. Take the events of September 11. "God didn't cause it," we say. "God allowed it." Well, then why would God allow such a horrible deed? Then we try to explain why, but God in His majesty and in His works in the world is unsearchable; His paths are beyond tracing out according to Romans 11. We look foolish when we try to search the unsearchable and trace the untraceable.
But God in the manger is another story. There is nothing He does that I don't understand. I understand crying for food, messing diapers and having colic. Moreover, I understand that God in flesh suffers all this for my sake. I can follow this enfleshed God all through His life. His ways are searchable and His paths are traceable. I see Him do what I can never do: keep the Law of God. I not only see Him suffer as I do, but I see Him suffer as no one on earth ever has or will. I see Him suffer as the worst sinner in the world. I see all of my sins, all of my shame, all of my guilt, all of my wretchedness placed on Him and Him carrying them away from me forever. I see that in His horrible suffering He is working great good for all humanity. This teaches me that rather than working in spite of suffering as most people think God works, God actually works through suffering. This I could never learn from God in His majesty.
God enfleshed Himself for our good, for good. He never puts off the very flesh and blood we carry around, but indeed right now reigns and rules over all things in this flesh. This is terribly offensive to human reason which thinks the spirit is far superior to the flesh. The eastern religions like Hinduism and Buddhism believe salvation is getting rid of the flesh and living in the spirit. Christianity teaches that salvation is the redemption of flesh and blood through God taking on flesh and blood. As we said, He redeemed us by living under the Law in our flesh and blood. He redeemed us by paying for our sins by the suffering of His flesh and the shedding of His blood. Having done this He does not put off the flesh and blood but takes it to heaven to fill all things in heaven and earth.
Now how does such a God enfleshed as He is deal with us beings of flesh and blood? Does He send His Spirit swooping down out of heaven to move our hearts in some mystical way? Does He perhaps speak to our hearts or fill our heads with spiritual visions and dreams? No, He uses physical things that touch our bodies of flesh and blood.
Christ Jesus attaches His Word of regeneration to the Waters of Baptism that touches our bodies. He speaks to us through the physical mouths of pastors whose words may or may not warm our hearts but they do strike our physical ear drums causing them to reverberate with the sound, "You are forgiven for Jesus' sake." Finally, in the Holy Supper, Christ puts His flesh and blood in Bread and Wine, so that all 5 of our senses are positively electrified with the testimony that we are given forgiveness, life and salvation in this meal. Our ears ring with the words, "This is My Body and Blood given and shed for you." Our tongues taste the forgiveness; our noses smell the forgiveness; our hands touch the forgiveness and our eyes see it. Our eyes see what Jesus tells us is there. Even as the shepherds saw in Jesus what the angels told them was there: Their Savior, their Lord.
Friends, the secrets of God's majesty have not been revealed to us. We must be content, therefore, to occupy ourselves instead with God enfleshed, with God in our flesh and blood. We can stop thinking that if we could only be more spiritual we would be closer to God. Not so. God placed Himself in flesh and blood like ours so that He would be easy to find, easy to get close to. He continues to deal with us through things that touch our flesh and blood so that we might not have to think we have to ascend to heaven to find Him. He is as close as Baptism is to our skin, as close as words are to our ear drums, as close as Holy Communion is to our mouths. Go home and play with your manger scenes. See that your God lives, breaths, rules and forgives in the very same world that you live in. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Festival of the Nativity (12-25-01) John 1: 1-14