The Sense of Christmas— Part Two

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I intimated in my last post that one of the real problems for Protestants in celebrating Advent and Christmas is: 1) that Advent is hardly celebrated at all, with too many Protestants only having a nodding acquaintance with the whole notion of the ‘Christian year’; and 2) too much is loaded into Christmas day itself, whereas we should be celebrating a season, not just a day. Indeed, if we want to talk about days, then we should be talking about two days— the day of his first coming, and the day when the King finally returns. My own spiritual forebears, the Wesleys knew this perfectly well, being good Anglicans. This is why Charles not only wrote ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’ but he also wrote for the first Sunday in Advent ‘Lo He Comes with Clouds Descending’. It’s a tale of two Advents. And to be sure, the window dressing of the Second Coming suggests a much more obvious, visible, cosmic event— plain for all to see, accompanied by signs in the heaven, loud heralding, the resurrection of the dead, and so on. Not so, the first coming. In the first coming Jesus comes incognito (see the poem below), and it is worth asking why. Why the incognito?

One partial answer is that as Phil. 2.5-11 suggests, Jesus stripped himself of his divine prerogatives, his royal trappings, in order to not merely appear to be, but actually be fully human. I take this to mean he accepted all the normal limitations of what it means to be truly human— limitations of time, space, knowledge, power, and mortality. You will notice I did not say sin. Sin is not an inherent or necessary part of being human, at least not as God created us. It is of course an endemic part of being a fallen human being. But Jesus was not a fallen human being. If we ask what the virginal conception is really all about and what it is not about, it is certainly not about the notion that God prefers celibacy for humans if they are to be holy creatures. This a later notion imposed on Christianity with the rise of asceticism, but it is no part of early Jewish Christianity. The virginal conception is about Jesus not inheriting a fallen nature: 1) so the womb of Mary is sanctified and she is given a child by means of the working of the Holy Spirit, and 2) no seminal transmission or intercourse is involved. This does not mean that Mary herself was not a sinner, or had not inherited a fallen nature or was immaculately conceived, rather it means that the Spirit intervened in her life and made sure her child did not inherit our fallenness. That’s all. Later Marian doctrines really have no basis in the NT itself. Mary is however a beautiful example of responding in faith to the most demanding challenge possible from God– namely being called to be the mother of the messiah, contributing a human nature to whom he already was (the pre-existing Son of God).

So in regard to the first coming, Jesus did not come trailing clouds of glory, nor wearing a golden crown like you see above. There was nothing about his physical appearance that was a tip off to who he really was. He came incognito…..because he fully assumed the mantle of being human. Here’s the poem

INCOGNITO

He came in incognito,
A thinly veiled disguise
The not so subtle son of man,
A human with God’s eyes.

The messianic secret,
Left many unawares
A God had walked upon the earth
And shared our human cares.

We did not see his glory,
At least not at first glimpse,
It took an Easter wake up call,
Before it all made sense.

The truth of Incarnation,
Of dwelling within flesh,
Shows goodness in creation,
And Word of God made fresh.

Standing on the boundary
Twixt earth and heaven above
A Jew who hailed from Nazareth
But came from God’s great love.

Born of humble parents,
Installed inside a stall
This king required no entourage
No pomp or falderal

No person was beneath him
No angel o’er his head,
He came to serve the human race
To raise it from the dead.

His death a great conundrum,
How can the Deathless die?
But if he had not bowed his head,
Life would have passed us by.

Though we are dying to be loved,
And long for endless life,
He was dying in his love,
And thereby ending strife.

Perhaps the incognito
Belongs instead to us,
Who play at being human,
And fail to be gold dust.

But there was once a God-man
Who played the human’s part
And lived and died and rose again
Made sin and death depart.

Yes now through a glass dimly,
We see the visage royal
And feebly honor his great worth
And his atoning toil.

We cannot see his Spirit,
But moved by its effects
We are inspired to praise his worth
And pay our last respects.

Yet that too brings him glory
That too makes a start,
The journey of a million miles
Begins within one’s heart.

And someday we shall see him
And fully praise his grace,
Someday when heaven and earth collide
And we see face to face.

He comes in blinding brilliance,
A not so veiled disguise
The not so subtle Son of God,
A God with human eyes.