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Archive for the ‘The Incarnation’ Category

Found this from Karl Barth in a quote from a book entitled Christmas posted by blogger ajmoyse :

“The man who is God’s own Word, does not send forth His radiant light from afar, encountering the “darkness” of other men as a king, hero or sage; but the Light that “shines in the darkness” is an ordinary man and gives light to ordinary people. This is incomprehensible, and yet because of it revelation is real and the Christmas gospel is quite different from both the sweet sadness and the false optimism of mere reverie. The Word of God is where we ourselves are, not where we should perhaps like to be, on one of those heights to which by some luck and strong effort we might attain; He is where we really are, whether we are king or beggar, in our torn condition in which we who face death appear–in the “flesh” …

 (Karl Barth. “The Word Made Flesh,” In Christmas. Translated by Bernard Citron. [Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, 1959], pp. 12-13.)

I was gratified that so high an authority has understood the ‘Christmas’ side of divine Incarnation as I tried to articulate it in my last post.

More Barth:

“Therefore the Word can give power to real people in the world, to become the sons of God. Therefore real people can accept Him and believe in Him… He does not appear in the form of an angel nor of an ideal man (how can anyone who is not as real as we are, address us?) but as Paul writes, in “the form of a servant” ( Phil. II.7), so that we who ourselves exist in this form, are able to hear Him. He encounters the riddle of our “darkness” on its own ground.” (Ibid)

However, Professor Dr. Barth, in his usual way, cannot go very long before attempting to move his theology along purely by means of a rhetorical flourish – and I find my agreement mixed with disagreement.   By a very strange leap of thought Barth attempts to force Golgotha into the Nativity picture as if the two were inextricably joined:

“We can sum up these comments in this way: Revelation
remains revelation by which the veil of divine mystery is
rent. In other words, except we see the Cross of Golgatha,
we cannot hear the Gospel at the crib of Bethlehem.” (Ibid)

I reject this little tour-de-force (one which I hear all the time from evangelicals at Christmas time).  I do see the similarities between the humility of the nativity and the humility of the cross.  But this kind of similarity is only the stuff of good homiletics and cannot support valid theological inferences.

I think the ‘wish’ to see Golgotha at Bethlehem is  incompatible with a full acceptance of the pre-baptism life and the pre-Calvary Gospel of Jesus.   Barth obviously doesn’t agree.  So I’ve got some explaining to do (later).

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What I like to see in the Christmas story is a divine lord who has donned our own messy and precarious humanity in the trauma of childbirth and family.  Here at the beginning he embarks upon the trial of a full humanity – what I am here calling the test of the ten-thousand days* – a test which he meets in full before his baptism at Jordan.

I think at Christmas Jesus invites us to celebrate with him and in him the obscure but vital humanity he enjoyed with mother and family and friends before he felt called to go out to meet the son of Zechariah.  Does it really matter that our scriptures are almost blank in its regard?  Do we really have no clue as to what an obscure childhood, youth and adulthood might look like?

If at Christmas we contemplate the fullness of Christ’s humanity, maybe we will find that this young lord accomplished, in the daily course of life while he was yet this side of Jordan, a work in which he did not leave our lives wholly unredeemed.

It is on this human side of the incarnation history that we may allow Jesus more fully to meet us as one who knows the potentiality of an obscure setting in life.  I think anyone who will let him live with them for any single part of a year or week or hour may see that he knows well the ins and outs from childhood to adulthood.  And it is neither smart nor even permissible to believe he was without sin if we do not accept his nearness to the temptations and inspirations of our quotidian struggles.  I say this Christmas give him a chance to show his power in the inevitable crises of an uncelebrated human life.

* 10,000 days equals 27 years, 19 weeks, and a day.  If we figure Jesus to be not facing any of the large or small frustrations of life without Mary’s constant assistance until at least age 3, the Ten-thousand day trial puts him on the banks of Jordan with John at “about his 30th year.”

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