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Monday, December 13, 2004

Still more on the incarnation

Chris W. and John H's continuing discussion have made me realize perhaps the most fundamental difference between the doctrine of my modern evangelical upbringing and my current understanding as a confessional Lutheran is the incarnation of Christ. What I was misunderstanding for many years: Christ is the Word, He became flesh, and dwelt among us.

Particularly at the Church of Christ/Restoration movement church I was a member of, little was made of Christs' incarnation as fully God and fully man. In our youth group's bible studies, it was common to be told that we could have been as sinless as Christ had been, if only we'd resisted temptation from that mysteriously slippery age of accountability to our final hour.

Forget that Jesus was the Son of God, firstborn of all men -- he really was just a guy with nerves of steel when it came to temptation. Oh, and a member of the trinity, too. But don't let that distract you in your struggle against sin. Armed with a WWJD bracelet, a winning smile, (and a pretty weak definition of sin) you can avoid transgression just like Jesus!

At this church, Jesus was shaped into more of a man and less of a God, so that he could be displayed primarily as an example to be imitated, secondarily as the sacrifice for the sin of mankind.

Confusion about Christ's incarnation leads to confusion about faith itself. Because of such an incomplete understanding of who Christ is, where He is, and what He does, I was often confused about the nature of faith. Rather than a gift given from God, I saw faith as something I had to work to get more of. When I didn't feel like I was successful, I questioned whether I was even a Christian.

Until recently, I had no idea what "faith comes by hearing" really meant. Whenever my conscience was assailed, I was told to turn inward, to my shifting perception of my faith, rather than to the objective reality of Christ's work on the cross, and his real presence in the preached word, communion, and baptism.

In too many churches we've become so uncertain of where God is going to be, we pour our effort into convincing our imaginations and emotions that He's near, even when we're not sure.

But Christ has come! He is as near as Word rightly preached and sacrament rightly administered, even when we don't feel it. Faith is being certain of what we cannot see, not certain of what might or might not really be there.

Perhaps the real trouble for us is that the Living Son of God is far too close, and he doesn't even knock before entering. Like an army in a horse He penetrates us through our sense of hearing when His Word is preached. He's placed onto our tongue and sealed onto our hearts.

Sit still in church, listen to the words the pastor speaks, and you can almost hear God breathing. When the pastor pronounces us forgiven, we are hearing in his voice the voice of the Word, the Son of God who laid the foundations of the world, spun the stars into the sky, drew up high mountains from the low ground, and onto the desert spilled the waters of the seas. In that place, Christ is closer than any lover, He is putting Himself into us and us into Himself.

When all this miraculous stuff happens, we expect fireworks, blazing lights, choirs of angels bellowing his praise -- or at least to be sort of pumped up. And sometimes we are. But perhaps as many times, we don't feel a twinge. Regardless, His presence in the Word is a fact, resonated throughout scripture. If we don't feel like He's there, it's our perception that needs adjustment.