Tag Archives: Incarnation

18 December – ‘His name is Jesus’

Take a moment today to pause and remember that in Jesus, God has come to save us. That’s behind his name, which means literally ‘God saves’ or ‘God to the rescue’.

Where in your life today do you need God’s rescue?

 

The animations in this series are by Jon Birch, and used by permission, but please don’t download them or post them elsewhere, as the copyright doesn’t allow that. Find out more at http://proost.co.uk/altadvent.

Blogging the Bible 269 – Luke 2 – Back to the Beginning…

Having just celebrated Easter, we’re back into Christmas with this chapter!

Luke starts the chapter with one characteristic bit and continues with another. First he sets Jesus’ birth in a clear historical frame. Unlike all the myths of the birth of pagan heroes and demigods, this doesn’t take place in some unnamed mythic time, but while Augustus was Emperor and Quirinius was governor. I know that there are all sorts of historical debates about the census (was it the whole world or just Palestine? When exactly did it happen? What does it mean to say ‘their own towns’? etc.) Luke’s meaning is clear. This is a real event within human history, not a parable. This fits with the whole emphasis of Luke’s telling of events ‘in order’, having studied his sources.

He goes on to bring in another of his emphases. While Matthew tells of Jesus’ birth being greeted by foreign sages with rich gifts, Luke points us to the marginalised poor – shepherds, living literally on the edge of the community. They are the ones who greet the Messiah with joy in response to the angels’ announcement.

Luke then tells us of Jesus’ childhood in the second half of the chapter. His coming to the Temple was recognised only by two elderly prophets – but in itself, it’s a continuning identification of Jesus with what has gone before through the Old Testament. The redeeming of the firstborn goes back to the first Passover, and God’s own firstborn now shares in the ritual remembering of his people. Simeon’s words of praise point to the opening out of God’s purposes through Jesus to the nations, just as his words of warning prepare the way for the conflict and pain that will mark the way to this opening out.

Then we have our one reliable account of the later childhood of Jesus (despite all the later ‘gospels’ that would try to fill in the gaps with inspirational stories!). And it’s not the gentle, obedient, plaster-halo version of Jesus that fills so many Christmas Carols for children. This Jesus wanders off from his parents in the Big City, Jerusalem, without an apparent concern for their feelings, or any understanding that they may see the world differently from him.

It’s a powerful reminder that being sinless didn’t stop Jesus having to go through a normal adolescence. And perhaps it’s a worthwhile reminder to parents of adolescents (which includes me!) that their ‘different’ take on the world isn’t necessarily sinful – after all, if Jesus could be so blind to his parents’ anguish…

I’d still love to have heard what Mary and Joseph had to say to him on the way back to Nazareth.

Blogging the Bible 266 – Mark 14 – Agony in the Garden

I’m writing in the evening of Palm Sunday. This morning in church we carried palm branches down the High Street, singing the praises of Jesus as we welcomed him to Wednesfield just as he was welcomed to Jerusalem. Then we stood (apart from two who fainted) for the reading of the Passion from Luke. 

So these events are all high in my mind at the moment. And I’ve just been struck by Mark’s phrase in 14:33 – ‘Jesus began to be distressed and agitated.’ This isn’t something we’ve seen before. Jesus seems always to be collected and self-controlled. Not always calm, but I find it hard to think of him being ‘agitated’. But this is a human decision which he takes like any other person would. Knowing that he could run, disappear, he still chooses to do what is right, to complete his calling even against his own wishes. The coming hours will be terrible, and his wish that there were another way to achieve our salvation is real and compelling. 

That’s why there’s one line I really dislike in one of my favourite hymns, ‘My song is love unknown’, which we sang this morning. The line is this,

Yet cheerful he to suffering goes, that he his foes from thence might free.

There is nothing cheerful in Jesus’ choice to go through with his suffering. Willing, loving, faithful – any of these words would do. Not cheerful. His distress and agitation are real: the Cross is real, and it will be enough to daunt any sane person, however holy and courageous.

Yet Jesus will go through with it, not cheerfully but willing and loving – for you and for me. That’s why this week is Holy.

Blogging the Bible 262 – Mark 7-8 – Hands-on Healing

In these chapters, the thing which strikes me most powerfully is the sheer, earthy humanity of Jesus. It comes across in the way in which Mark tells of his words ‘declaring all foods clean’ in 7:14-23. The point he makes is that it is what comes from the heart that defiles us – the attitudes and actions that take away from our humanity and harm others. Food, he points out bluntly, is just passing through – literally. It doesn’t, in itself, affect us morally or spiritually on the way.
His humanity comes across in his conversation with the gentile woman in 7:24-30, too. Some writers treat this story as one where Jesus holds back to draw out faith from the woman before him, but taking it at face value, he’s tired and trying to get some rest. He speaks from within his priority of bringing renewal and freedom to Israel, and sends her away – only to be swayed by the faith and wit of her response. This story is then one that goes with Abraham’s argument with God over Sodom and Gomorrah. Jesus is not a distant, abstract God, but one with whom we can, when necessary, have a bit of an argument – we can and should be bold, even pushing our luck a bit, in prayer. He seems to appreciate it!
But above all I see the down-to-earth humanity of Jesus in the miracles in these chapters. In healing the deaf and blind men, he uses touch and spit to connect with them and (somehow) to heal them. For a second time, he feeds a crowd not by creating bread and fish from nothing, but by taking what is there and working a wonder with it.
Jesus in Mark’s gospel seems more like the Creator of Genesis 2 than of Genesis 1 – not speaking things into being in an instant, but walking in his garden, shaping life with his hands and breathing his own life into it. Jesus is, very deeply and powerfully, Emmanuel, God with us. Even his miracles are rooted in the ordinary and the physical. Perhaps if we looked for his work today in such ordinary-seeming, hands-on ways we might recognise more miracles.

Blogging the Bible 243 – Matthew 1-2 – Ancient hope, new beginning

Today, with anticipation I open the New Testament after 242 readings from the Old, and – it’s a page of genealogy. Thanks.

Then I read it, and it makes a lot more sense than it has before that this comes as the first, off-putting page of the greatest book in history, the one I give to people when they’re ready to find out about God – the New Testament. Because now the names all ring loud and recent bells in my mind, as part of the story that I’ve just read. They make it clear that this book is not a new story, but follows on from what’s already been written; and that the key thing about that ancient story is that it has been worked out in human lives. God has not usually worked by heavenly decree, but through the ordinary and extraordinary people of the Old Testament. Their story has brought the world to this moment, where God enters the human story in person.

What’s particularly fascinating about Matthew’s genealogy is the inclusion of a few key women alongside the fathers and greatgrandfathers of Joseph. Rahab and Ruth, two Gentile women whose faith shines from the Old Testament, are mentioned by name. Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother, isn’t given a name, but is ‘the wife of Uriah’ – for all of David’s greatness, his greatest sin is not hidden. Perhaps, too, we need to be reminded that the Messiah’s family tree doesn’t just include foreigners but also the legacy of lust, adultery and betrayal. After all, there’s some of that in most people’s ancestry, and this is part of the humanity he comes to share.

Overall, though, this whole introduction serves to link Old and New in Jesus. And something new is indeed happening – after the birth of Jesus, genealogies seem to lose their religious significance.

Once the story really gets going, with the conception and birth of Jesus – told mainly, here, from Joseph’s point of view. The meaning of the birth is spelled out in the two names given to the child – ‘Jesus’, meaning ‘God saves’ and ‘Emmanuel’, meaning ‘God with us’.

The visit of the Wise Men, with its tragic consequences for the families of Bethlehem, fulfils in symbol the prophecies of the nations coming to worship, but shows how even the greatest of worldly wisdom and the best of intentions need God’s guidance as well – and how acting on what seems logical and right can lead to disaster.

At the same time, their actions link again the two testaments, but with an ironic twist. In the book of Exodus, Moses was saved in Egypt from the infanticide of a tyrant, Pharoah. Now, a tyrant is in charge in Jerusalem, and Jesus has to flee to Egypt to escape with his life.

This whole story, with its glory and wonder and with its horror, is the more powerful now that I read it with the whole Old Testament story fresh in my mind. There’s a sense of fulfilment that comes across in a new way.

The genealogy helps. Honest.