Mid-week Advent I
It seems like a good place to start as we begin our mid-week Advent services. True, “In the beginning was the Word,” (cf. John 1:1) but as we look forward to Christmas and the birth of the enfleshed God, it does us good look to when God became incarnate, when the Son of God, the Word became flesh in order to dwell among us. (cf. John 1:14)
It was to a lowly maiden that God sent His messenger, Gabriel, whose name means “Man of God,” to announce the good news: “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” When Mary saw and heard Gabriel, she was troubled, and Gabriel continued:
Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end. The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.
With Mary’s reply—“Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word”—she was set off down the road of bearing the Savior of the world. She went from lowly maiden to the woman who would bear God, watch Him grow into a man who would take into his Mary-given flesh the sins of the world, and watch Him go to Calvary and be nailed to a cross. Mary was given a difficult cross to bear herself—a sword would pierce through her soul (cf. Luke 2:35)—but conceived in her womb is her Savior. If she understood what that would entail the night of her heavenly visit, we can’t say, but she was made keenly aware her Son, the Son of God, would be given the name JESUS—YHWH saves—and that He would save her, too.
Growing in the womb is God in the flesh. He is God, do not doubt it, nor be deceived to think or believe otherwise. Veiled in flesh, He is the Godhead unseen. Though you could have seen the result of the incarnation—you would have seen a pregnant Mary—the mystery of the incarnation is that the flesh of God is veiled in flesh. God hides the person of His Son in flesh, and hides His Son’s flesh, these first nine months, in the flesh of His mother. He was conceived as we are and born as we are, and all of it without sin.
The incarnation is about the hidden-ness of God. For one thing, no one born with sin can look upon God in His glory and live. So, the glory of God is hidden with the person of God in flesh which is hidden by way of His mother’s womb as each of us, for about nine months, were hidden in the wombs of our mothers. There, within Mary can be said is that of which St. Paul wrote:
Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him. (1 Corinthians 2:9)
Dear hearers, we rejoice this evening in the unseen! We rejoice at all times in what is unseen by these eyes. For, just as Jesus was then hidden from sight in the womb of His mother, so now He deigns to hide Himself from sight in other means.
- For one, by God-given faith, we believe that Jesus, the Son of God, is hidden in His Word given and proclaimed to us. We have the Scriptures. We have Gospel preaching. We have the words of Holy Absolution. And in each of these, we have Jesus, present among us. And where Jesus is present in His means of grace, He is present to give forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.
- For another, by God-given faith, we believe that Jesus, the Son of God, is hidden in plain water and ordinary bread and wine. For when His Word is applied to these simple elements, water becomes the washing of regeneration in which the Holy Spirit is given to produce and strengthen faith in the Son of God, and Jesus is given for the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation, and bread becomes the body of Christ sacrificed on the cross of Calvary and wine becomes the blood of Christ shed on the cross of Calvary, given and shed for the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation, because Jesus is present in these means of grace.
Now, the eyes and ears of flesh do not perceive Jesus in His means. They look and sound like ordinary words, a book printed as any other, a speech given as any other. They look, taste, and feel like ordinary water, bread, and wine, a bath like any other, a meal like any other. They are Jesus, even though there is nothing in them that we experience by the flesh to verify that we are given and receive Jesus, even as these are spoken into our flesh, applied onto our flesh, and placed into our flesh.
And it is for that reason that you can easily succumb to a gross error. It goes something like this: Jesus contains the Son of God. If you had lived in ancient Palestine, and could have merely gazed upon Jesus, you would not have known that He was the Son of God, and even if He had told you that He was, your experience and sight would tell you otherwise. He looks like any other man, ordinary, no beauty that He would be desired. (cf. Isaiah 53:2) God is Spirit, we are told, not flesh. With that in mind, yet still knowing that Jesus is God, logic would dictate that Jesus was a man into which God took up residence, for lack of another term. At it simplest, the error is that Jesus is a man possessed by God, as if God were as any demon that, from time to time, takes possession of a person.
Now, there aren’t many Adoptionists or Monophysites walking around, nor many adherents to Sabellianism, Docetism, Arianism, Apollinarianism, or any other such heresies. You and almost all who call themselves Christians hold to the truth that Jesus is God. Jesus wasn’t and is not now merely a man who simply contains God, in His second person. We do confess, however, that the full glory of God was hidden in His flesh; nonetheless, He is fully God.
There are those, however, who will boldly confess that the Bible contains the Word of God; it only contains Jesus. There, in simple words, Jesus is hidden, but He is fully there, just as He is fully God in authentic flesh. To confess that the Scriptures only contain the Word of God allows you to pick and choose which parts are those parts that are Jesus, that are the Word of God, and which ones aren’t. From this springs all sorts and conditions of errors such as the ordination of women, condoning homosexuality as God-pleasing, and calling any other sin not a sin.
And of course, if one can say that Jesus is not present in His Word, or fully present, then someone else can say that Jesus is not present in His sacraments. Baptism becomes merely a sign, a moment and rite that signifies the dedication to Christ of the believer. The Lord’s Supper is reduced merely to a memorial meal, done in remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, where Jesus is not truly, flesh-and-blood present, but that the bread and wine merely represent Christ’s body and blood, or perhaps He is only spiritually present.
What does the Word of God declare, however?
- Jesus said, “This is my body...this is my blood.” (cf. Luke 22:19-20, emphasis mine) The word “is” is right there in the Greek, even though it doesn’t have to be. Also, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16)
- The Word says, “Baptism now saves you.” (1 Peter 3:21) Also, “[A]ccording to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:5-7) And, “[W]e were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4)
- Jesus said, “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” (John 17:17) Also, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God...” (2 Timothy 3:16) “[T]he Scripture cannot be broken.” (John 10:35)
- The Word says, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us...” The “Man of God” proclaimed, “[Y]ou will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end. The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.”
The Word of God declares to you even as it gives you Jesus. The Word of God is Jesus. Jesus is God. Through the Word of God and in His means of grace, God reveals Himself to you through His Son and gives Himself to you for the forgiveness of your sins, for your eternal life, for your salvation. Your experience and fleshy sight and hearing do not reveal these things to you, but you perceive them from Him through faith. Therefore, there is much rejoicing over the hidden-ness of God, because, though hidden, He is revealed, and He is here, and you are forgiven by Him for all of your sins.