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Friday, February 25, 2011

The Scandulous Incarnation

As I prepared for this Sunday evening’s Vespers, I was pondering the Heidelberg Catechism section covered under Lord’s Day 14.

Question and Answer 35 address the full divinity of Jesus, while affirming His full humanity: “What is the meaning of these words "He was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary"? That God's eternal Son, who is, and continues true and eternal God, took upon him the very nature of man, of the flesh and blood of the virgin Mary, by the operation of the Holy Ghost; that he might also be the true seed of David, like unto his brethren in all things, sin excepted.”

As important as that answer is, it’s the 36th Question and Answer which caught my attention. “What profit dost thou receive by Christ's holy conception and nativity? That he is our Mediator; and with His innocence and perfect holiness, covers in the sight of God, my sins, wherein I was conceived and brought forth.”

The significance of this answer is how the writers of the Catechism are addressing children, for which the Catechism was originally written. They describe Christ’s conception and birth as being just as salvific as His life, death and resurrection. By doing this the writers were accomplishing three things all at once:

(1) They show the necessity of the virgin conception of Jesus (it is not an optional item for the Christian Faith).

(2) Similarly, they announced the conception and birth of Jesus as being as fully integral to redemption as was his death.With regard to these first two points, an important pastor/theologian from the late 2nd Century AD, declared,
“Wherefore also He passed through every stage of life, restoring to all communion with God. […] For it behoved Him who was to destroy sin, and redeem man under the power of death, that He should Himself be made that very same thing which he was, that is, man; who had been drawn by sin into bondage, but was held by death, so that sin should be destroyed by man, and man should go forth from death. For as by the disobedience of the one man who was originally moulded from virgin soil, the many were made sinners, and forfeited life; so was it necessary that, by the obedience of one man, who was originally born from a virgin, many should be justified and receive salvation. Thus, then, was the Word of God made man, as also Moses says: “God, true are His works.” But if, not having been made flesh, He did appear as if flesh, His work was not a true one. But what He did appear, that He also was: God recapitulated in Himself the ancient formation of man, that He might kill sin, deprive death of its power, and vivify man; and therefore His works are true” (Irenaeus, “Against Heretics“, III.xviii.7).
Finally, (3) by carefully wording this answer the way they did, the writers were giving comfort to children, by showing that they matter so much to Jesus that He went through the whole episode of real childhood! Imagine the scandalous action of a God who loves His people so much as to stoop down and enter their full humanity, starting with the awkwardness of gestation, infancy and childhood! How perpetually scandalous this is to cultures that disdain children, by heaping abuse on them through abortion, neglect, and violence; those societies that throw children away leaving them to become street children, selling them off into various forms of genuine bondage; or marketing them for sexual violation and pornography. Hear the words of the God who fully entered infancy and childhood:

“Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven. For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost. What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish” (Matthew 18.10-14).
What a comfort and joy this should be to our children, that their God loved them so very much as to become one of them! And Christian parents ought to delight in broadcasting this to their children.


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