December 25, 2005

This Post is Old!

The post you are reading is years old and may not represent my current views. I started blogging around the time I first began to study philosophy, age 17. In my view, the point of philosophy is to expose our beliefs to rational scrutiny so we can revise them and get better beliefs that are more likely to be true. That's what I've been up to all these years, and this blog has been part of that process. For my latest thoughts, please see the front page.

Meditations on the Incarnation

It is officially Christmas in the Eastern timezone! (We'll conveniently ignore, for the moment, the fact that I am currently at my parents' house in the Pacific timezone.) This being as it is, and since I have no classes and therefore time for blogging, I thought it would be appropriate to post some thoughts on the miracle of the Incarnation.

We will all, I'm sure, be hearing the story of the birth of Christ read from Matthew's or Luke's Gospel in the near future (most likely, in fact, we'll all be hearing Luke's account of the birth of Christ and the events preceding it, and Matthew's account of the visit from the Magi). These stories are wonderful, traditional, and inspirational (and also, importantly, TRUE). However, these are, in important ways historical accounts of the coming of Christ, and as such, at least for me, they fail to impart the true magnitude of the event. They are tip-of-the-iceberg Ernest Hemingway types of accounts and it requires long hard consideration for us to even begin to understand their import. On the surface, Matthew and Mark tell a simple story of a peasant girl giving birth to her peasant son in a barn in a backwater province of the Roman Empire in the first century AD. Other children have been born in barns in backwater provinces. Sure, Matthew and Luke record various signs and portents surrounding the birth, but history claims the same for such figures as Alexander the Great. What is so special about the birth of this Jesus of Nazareth fellow?

For years, I believed that Christmas was greatly overemphasized in the church. I often stated quite explicitly that Christmas was important only insofar as it was a necessary prerequisite for Easter. I no longer believe this; I believe that this event of the Incarnation is deeply meaningful in its own right, independent of the further important events in the life of Christ. This realization could, I'm sure, have been made by a deeper reading of Matthew and Luke in the broader context of Scripture, but, for me, it came through John's account. He writes:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, but the darkness did not comprehend it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word become flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-14)

As often in the Johannine literature, we have a beautiful glimpse of what is really happening behind the scenes. Matthew and Luke give us neat factual narratives of events that took place in Roman Judea 2,000 years ago, but here, here in John, is where we find the meat of the matter. The Word became flesh.

There is something very unusual about God, logically. John expresses this in his bold statement, "The logos was God." Logos, "word," in Greek is the intelligible content of speech. A proposition, if you will. A statement, a truth, a story, a message. It is the content, the meaning. The Meaning was God. And the Meaning became flesh. Huh?

The Scholastics expressed something like this when they said of God things like, "his essence includes existence." Or they sometimes explained that you and I represent the instantiations of essences, but God - God is His essence. God is something deep, something logical. He has His existence in the realm of logical truth, God exists the way 2+2=4. And yet ... personal. He is no mere abstraction. He is at once the Deep Truth of the universe and a person (or three), a living entity actually existing in the world, existing as you and I do, only infinitely more so. The logos was God.

Here is a highly exalted picture of eternal glory that is positively unimaginable! "He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him." And so the Word, the logos, the Meaning, the Rational Principle brought the world into existence, and brought the world to order. Christ was that Word God spoke in the beginning when He commanded, "let there be light!" And the Word of God is effective, it is potent, it is irresistable. And there was light. "And the Light shines in the darkness, but the darkness did not comprehend it."

The word "comprehend" here is like the English word "grasp." We speak of "grasping" a message or a truth, to mean that we understand it, but this use is figurative. Really the word means to grab hold of something, and so here. The word here also possesses a definitely hostile sense. This is expressed by the NKJV footnote which gives the alternative translation, "overcome." The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. It completely fails to grasp the situation taking place around it. It can't get a grip. It has no way to work against, to react to, this light. The darkness is baffled.

Long lay the world
In sin and error pining
'Til He appeared
And the soul felt its worth

The thrill of hope!
The weary world rejoices!
For yonder breaks
A new and glorious morn!

The word became flesh, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father. And the darkness was baffled.

In the beginning the Word was God. In Him was life and that life was the Light of men. And the Word became flesh. And the darkness was baffled.

Not only is the Eternal Word - this logical construct, this eternal truth, this deep organizing principle of the universe, the meaning of all things - not only is this Word a Person, but this Person became a Man. And we beheld His glory. Not just glanced at, but beheld, gazed upon, stared at. John writes as an old man, remembering. "We, my fellow disciples and I, we for three years were looking, gazing intently, at His glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth!" The Eternal Word became human, and moved in with us. The darkness was baffled.

I once heard a pastor giving a Christmas message refer to something Robert Lewis Stevenson said as a child. The story is that the young Stevenson saw the lamp-lighter out the window of a home in London and exlaimed, "Look! A man poking holes in the darkness!" The darkness was baffled. The glory of God came down to earth and rested upon a Man, a Man full of grace and truth, a Man who, little did we know, was the Eternal Word of God - God Himself. What could the darkness do? How to react? How much darkness does it take to extinguish the light of a single lamp? And here, not a lamp, not a hole poked in the darkness, but a tear, a rip, and suddenly, all heaven breaks loose upon the earth. "And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men!'" And the darkness trembled, quivered, and gave way.

And so the Light was born into the world. "He was in the world, and the world was made through Him." Suddenly, in that instant, the Creator, the Sustainer of the world, the Eternal Word, the Meaning of it all, was here, among us, in the form of ... What? A baby? In a barn? In a backwater province of the ancient Roman Empire? The illegitimate son of a poor carpenter from Galilee?

And so the story has its meaning. And what a meaning it is! "The thrill of hope" indeed. The God who saves, here among us, humbling Himself to be the least among us, although He was before us and is eternally, completely, necessarily. And one day that baby would be the sacrifice for us, that sin might be punished to fulfill the righteous requirement of the Law. He bled and died. And so, once for all, the darkness perished.

Merry Chrismas.

Posted by Kenny at December 25, 2005 1:34 AM
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was a good read. =)

merry christmas to you as well and thanks for sending this out.

Posted by: amani at December 25, 2005 2:44 AM


Posted by: Anonymous at December 25, 2005 9:53 PM

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