Exhortation, August 17

The exhortation from August 17, 2003:

Ancient heretics tried to deny it, and modern heretics do the same, but Luke could hardly make it clearer that Jesus is the human God. Throughout the first chapter of Luke’s gospel, Luke uses the word “Lord” to describe the God of Israel. Gabriel is an “angel of the Lord,” and he tells Zacharias that John will “turn back many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God.” Gabriel tells Mary that “the Lord God will give” Jesus the throne of David, and Mary’s soul “exults in the Lord.” As shepherds watch their flocks by night, “an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them.” Lord, Lord, Lord: every time it’s used it means Yahweh, the God of Israel.

And then the bombshell: “There is born to you this day in the city of David is born a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Against every heretic, we must insist that this baby lying in a manger is God. The God from whom all things were born has Himself been born in Bethlehem of Judea. The boundless God is bound in swaddling clothes. The God whom heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain spends nine months in Mary’s uterus and is then placed in a manger.

At the same time, we must not allow this central confession of Christian faith to become an abstract theological point. When Luke talks about the Lord who has been born in Bethlehem, he doesn’t present it as the solution to a metaphysical puzzle about finitude and infinitude; he doesn’t talk about it as a kind of cosmic “squaring of the circle.”

Rather, Luke tells us that the Lord has been born to save, to be a light to the Gentiles, to topple every tyrant from his throne, to tear down the fortresses of the arrogant and the rich. When Luke talks about the Lord born in Bethlehem, he is talking about Yahweh, the Creator God who spoke the worlds into existence, who gave promises to Abraham, who brought Israel out of Egypt, who raised up David and cast down the temple of Solomon. He is talking about Yahweh, who bares His arm to defend His beloved; who laments over the unfaithfulness and rebellion of His people; who rejoices over His people with singing. That God, not some passionless Deist deity, has come to earth. That God has been born.

There are things in this story to make us ponder, marvel, and wonder. Many who hear the news become afraid. But the dominant response to the good news of Christmas is joy. Nowhere in the NT is there more singing than in the early chapters of Luke, nowhere is there more rejoicing, nowhere is there more spontaneous praise. Gabriel is a herald of joy. John leaps in the womb for joy, dancing like David in the presence of the glory of God. Angels announce good tidings of great joy. Simeon and Anna rejoice that they have seen the salvation of Yahweh. We mustn’t be so afraid of being mistaken for charismatics that we miss this truth: The joy of Christmas looks a lot like giddiness, just as the joy of Pentecost could be mistaken for drunkenness.

The incarnation is far less a metaphysical puzzle than a joke. Jesus is born as the true Seed of Abraham, the true Isaac, whose name means laughter. How should we respond? By all means, we should ponder and marvel; by all means, we should fear. But don’t forget that the deep response of faith is to join in the song of the angels, and to share in the laughter of our heavenly Father.

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