Meditating on the Incarnation

Meditating on the Incarnation January 24, 2023

Leland Ryken is one of the premier Christian literary scholars.  I got to know him when I was a visiting professor at Wheaton years ago.  Lately, he has been bringing back the rich heritage of Christian meditation and devotion for Christians today.

I was asked to write a blurb for his book The Soul in Paraphrase: A Treasury of Classic Devotional Poems.  This is what I said:

“Some of the most profound devotional exercises―perhaps second only to the reading of Scripture―come from reading and contemplating Christian poetry. But readers today are ill-equipped to do so, knowing poetry only as either greeting-card verse or undecipherable puzzles. In this collection, Leland Ryken, the dean of Christian literary scholars, gives back to contemporary Christians their rich literary heritage. First, he selects works of the highest aesthetic and spiritual quality; and, second, he offers brief commentary that unpacks each poem’s meaning, artistry, and theological depths. In showing how poetry is a ‘trap for meditation’ (as Denis de Rougemont called it), Ryken has given us a resource that will greatly enhance our Christian devotions.”

Again, he not only gives us a collection of classic works, he briefly explicates them, so that we can understand, appreciate, and contemplate what they say.  He has also used this approach for classic hymns.

I especially recommend The Heart in Pilgrimage: A Treasury of Classic Devotionals on the Christian Life.  This includes prose devotional texts drawn from the entire history of the Church.  Luther and the Reformation are well-represented, as are classic devotions from Augustine, Pascal, and Jeremy Taylor.  And it includes some surprises:  You might not have realized that Jane Austen, Samuel Coleridge, and George Washington Carver were so devout and so spiritually insightful.

Anyway, Dr. Ryken is coming out with a collection of classic meditations, with commentary, on the Nativity.  I was asked to write an endorsement for the book, which is presumably scheduled to come out next Christmas.  I realize that the 12 Days of Christmas are over, but the time is always right to reflect upon the Incarnation.  I had to share these quotations with you.  These snippets are taken from the longer texts that are in the anthology, though none of the meditations take very much time.  I’ll bold my favorite lines:

The creation of the world was a very great thing, but not so great as the incarnation of Christ. It was a great thing for God to make the creature, but not so great as for the Creator himself to become a creature.

Jonathan Edwards

He who had brought all things into existence, was brought into existence in the midst of all things. He made the day—He came into the light of day. He who was before time, set His seal upon time. Christ the Lord was forever without beginning with the Father; but look what He is today! It is His birthday.

St. Augustine

It was impossible for the Word to die, being immortal and the Son of the Father, so for this reason He took to Himself a body capable of death, in order that the Word who is above all might be a sufficient representative of all in the discharge of the penalty of death. . . . Thus the immortal Son of God, . . . the Word, took to Himself a body capable of death, that He might offer it as His own in place of all.

St. Athanasius

I would not have you contemplate the deity of Christ, the majesty of Christ, but rather his flesh. Look upon the Baby Jesus. . . . See how God invites you. . . . He places before you a Babe in whom you may take refuge. . . . Here is the Child in whom is salvation. To me there is no greater consolation given to mankind than this, that Christ became man, a child, a babe, playing in the lap and at the breasts of his most gracious mother. . . . Now is overcome the power of sin, death, hell, conscience, and guilt, if you come to this gurgling Babe and believe that he is come, not to judge you, but to save.

Martin Luther

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