We Believe in the God who was Conceived and Born
Tonight we confess the First Article of the Creed though we deal with a Second Article point. We're confessing the part of the Creed about God the Father when I'm talking about God the Son. Why? Because the God "who has made me and all creatures.gives me all I have...and guards and protects me from all evil" is the One who was "conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary."
How contrary to reason is it for the God Almighty to take on flesh and blood at all. You know the myth of Achilles. The river Styx flowed around Hades, the land of the dead. The water was said to be powerful. Bathing in it gave your flesh supernatural protection. Skin touched by the water stayed pliable but was tough as steel. Though the water was so potent few dared go near it lest they get that much closer to the land of the dead. Achilles' mom dared. Soon after her son was born she hurried to the river and dipped him into the strong water. The flesh and blood of her boy were now invulnerable.
Now doesn't that make sense? Flesh and blood is a weakness in any battle. From leather shields, to coats of mail, to bullet proof vests, to flack jackets, to armored vehicles, all were designed to protect the weakest part of any warrior: his own flesh and blood. This is no less true spiritually than it is physically. We sing in hymns for grace to "strive against our flesh and blood." We confess to being frail, feeble, weak creatures.
And here's the shocker. Perfect Adam and Eve were no different. Though they were perfect, free from our sinfulness and our sicknesses, they were still weak in flesh and blood. They were no match for Satan in Eden. Even though he came to them not in terror, not in might but in a polite talking snake, their perfect flesh and blood were no match for his wiles. Look how quickly they fell. Scripture doesn't give details, but it doesn't give the impression Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden very long. Luther thought they were there no more than a week or so.
It is doesn't make sense for God before doing battle with the most powerful demon in the universe to take on flesh and blood by being conceived and born. It would be like Achilles' mom sending him into battle naked. God the Son had no weakness. He appeared in the OT in flesh and blood. He walked with Adam in Eden's evenings. He visited and ate with Abraham and Sara. He appeared to Joshua before Jericho. Jesus could've appeared in flesh and blood without being conceived and born, yet He didn't. Instead He took on our weakness, our infirmity. The Mighty Warrior discarded a great advantage. It would belike Achilles' mom not only not dipping him in the river but sending him into battle with no shield or armor. Why do that?
Hebrews tells us why. "Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He himself likewise partook of the same things." Again, "For because He Himself has suffered when tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted." And, "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One whom in ever respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin."
When you hurt, when you're worried, when you're guilty, where is the pain, anxiety, shame located? You can say it's in your soul, in your mind, in your spirit, but it's manifest in your flesh. It's your body that hurts. It's your skin you what to jump out of when you're really anxious. It's your face that blushes when you're really guilty. It's not accidental that Lady Macbeth keeps trying to get the spot of blood, that isn't there, out of her physical hand.
These bodies of flesh and blood are the locus, the place for the cosmic struggle between God and Satan. The Devil contended with the archangel Michael for the body of Moses. When the Devil contends with the Lord over Joshua the high priest, the issue is the filthy garments that are on his body. Read Romans 7; the epic struggle that Paul feels is in his body till he can stand it no longer and cries, "O Wretched man that I am who will deliver me from this body of death?" Certainly not someone without a body; certainly not someone who didn't come into the world in the usual way.
We need a Savior in our flesh and blood, but how humbling, how humiliating for the Almighty to be conceived in the womb of a creature, to be born as every other baby is. This is far more humiliating than Achilles' mother sending him into battle naked. But be clear on this, the humiliating part is not that Jesus became man. This is what the Reformed teach. I quote a Reformed writer: "For Reformed Christology, the humiliation is identical with the incarnation" (Reformed Confessions, 112). If Jesus humbled Himself by taking on flesh and blood, then He would be exalted by putting flesh and blood aside. Now you see why the Reformed faith doesn't have the flesh and blood of Jesus anywhere but heaven. How can they be in the Font, in my Words, or on this Altar when Jesus has laid them aside? His Spirit not His flesh and blood does it all now.
God the Son didn't humble Himself by becoming man, but by the way He did it. He could've appeared in the manger without going through 9 months gestation and the trauma of birth. For that matter, He could've showed up as 30 year old, but He didn't. And this humbling of Himself has led the Church to humble herself, if ever so briefly. At the words referring to the incarnation particularly in the Nicene Creed "and He became Man," the Church has bowed. Luther liked to tell told the story of one man who didn't. The devil suddenly appeared and slapped him on the head saying, "If God the Son had taken on my nature, I'd sure be bowing my head."
It was necessary that Jesus should humble Himself to be conceived and born, not just for our comfort but for our salvation. Jesus took on flesh and blood to redeem us: to be under God's Laws and keep them in our place, and to suffer the punishment we deserve because we don't keep them. To the depth Jesus descended into our human nature to that depth He redeemed it. Taking on the flesh and blood of a 30 year old, 30 and up would be redeemed. Taking that of a 12 year old, 12 and up would be redeemed. Anything below would be unredeemed and unredeemable. Therefore, God the Son was conceived and born to "cleanse and sanctify our contaminated conception and birth that we might know that Christ's salvation applies even to our babies in conception, gestation and birth" (Chemnitz, Two Natures, 102).
If God the Son had not been "conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary," He couldn't have taken our place under the Law. As Paul points out in Galatians to be born under the Law one has to be born of a woman. That's the order God established. God formed the first man, from the man the first woman, but from then on all mankind is woman-born. God didn't command angels "do this" and "don't do that." God didn't say to angels, "The soul that sins shall die." It was to us beings of flesh and blood the Law was given. So Jesus was conceived and born of a woman to do what you haven't, can't, won't do: keep the Law perfectly. So long as you look above your head and see a bunch of do's and don'ts you're living under the Law rather than under the Jesus who kept those laws in your place.
However, it wasn't enough for Jesus to keep the Law for us. The Laws we broke had to be paid for. You under estimate the wrath of God if you think God could've Santa-like ho,ho,ho-ed your sins away. Likewise, when you think the suffering and death of Jesus barbaric or worse unnecessary, you're thinking you're wrath is more just than God's. Think how angry you get when someone treats you with the slightest disrespect. How indignant you are when someone doesn't believe your words. How furious you get when someone ignores you. Yet, you think you can disrespect, disbelieve, and disregard the Holy God who richly and daily provides you with all that I need to support this body and life, and He should be able to laugh it off.
Well, He couldn't. He was so angry at you that He grabbed His Son covered Him with the filth, the vomit, the wretchedness that are your sins and pushed, shoved, and beat Him all the way to the cross. He didn't see His Son, He saw you and your sins, and so punished them with all the terror, horror, pain, and shame of hell itself till He who couldn't die, did. As Hebrews 2 says, "Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of deaththat is, the devil and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death." Go you are free.
But before you do, go back to Achilles. When dipping her son in the water, she held him by his heel, thus leaving that unprotected. He died in battle after being shot in that heel. God's Achilles' Heel is our human nature. I don't think it's accidental that the myth of Achilles' vulnerable heel comes centuries after the Lord promised Christ would crush the head of the serpent but the serpent would strike His heel. However, where Achilles' mom accidently left a vulnerable spot, the Lord purposely left one.
Apart from our conception and birth how could God take your place under the law? As God whatever He did would have to be counted as right and then whatever you do would still be wrong because the Law would still be hanging over you. Also, apart from being conceived and born, how could God die in your place? God is life. God can no more cease to live than He can cease to be all powerful. With the Achilles' Heel of our flesh and blood, God was able to die in our place.
An Achilles' Heel describes any seemingly invincible person's weakest point. The boxer's glass jaw is his Achilles' Heel. An Achilles' Heel is a weakness that ordinary men would love to be rid of, healed of, freed of. Not so the God who made me and all creatures. He purposely took on my flesh and blood so the serpent would have a heel to strike and then after rising from the dead He would have a heel to crush the serpent's head with. That heel is not Achilles'. It's yours, mine, ours, everyone ever conceived and born. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Midweek Advent II (20081210); First Article