Friday, 30 December 2011

Incarnation and Cross

This Christmas the incarnation of the Son of God has been placed firmly alongside the cross of Christ in my mind. I have found it hard to separate the two. I can’t sing of the glorious wonder of the incarnation and the hope that brings to the world without feeling deep in my bones the suffering to come upon the cross.

I have been struck by the words of Simeon to Mary when she and Joseph brought Jesus to Jerusalem. This righteous, devout man, who had been waiting for the consolation of Israel, blessed Mary and Joseph and said to Mary:

This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too” 
(Luke 2:34-35).

I can’t begin to imagine how Mary must have felt to hear these words. Up until this moment, the announcement of the angelic messenger to her has been of the victorious reign of Christ (Luke 1:32-33). When the shepherds visited to worship at the birth of Christ, they must also have shared with Mary the uplifting message the angels gave them (Luke 2:10-14). A theology of glory could arguably have taken root in her mind.

Now Simeon’s words introduce her to the theology of the cross.

No other book has made a greater impact on me in 2011 than Michael Horton’s A Place for Weakness. An online book discussion helped me to really grasp the difference between the theology of glory and the theology of the cross – the difference between looking for God “in powerful places; in health, wealth and happiness; in perfect families and prosperous nations” -  but God “is truly to be found in the weak things of the world” (p. 37). And no greater place than at the cross, where the death of Christ must have seemed completely irreconcilable with the belief in the never-ending reign of Christ on David’s throne – yet it is precisely at this point, as Mary watched her Son die and felt that sword piercing her own soul too, that victory over sin and death was being won.

“God nowhere promises us temporal prosperity, but the way he has redeemed us makes all of our trials cruciform, that is, shaped not by the circumstances themselves but by the suffering and victory of Christ” (p.47).  As a family, we have experienced some trials over this Christmas period – yet through it all, the promise of Christ has held sway over our hearts: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5) for at Christmas we remember and celebrate that “the true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1:9). “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned” (Isa 9:2).

We continue to live in a land of deep darkness, a land that continues to feel the terrible effects of sin, but to those of us who believe, who now see the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ, neither sin nor death has the last word, for: 

Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” 
(1 Cor 15:57).

"The people that walked in darkness" from Handel's Messiah