Pursuing Answers to Questions of Faith & Life

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Sermon 12-17-06--What was Accomplished in the Incarnation?

Credit must be given to Phillip Yancey and his book, “Disappointment With God”. It was my opinion that many points he made would be helpful in Christmas discussion.

In Don Richardson’s best selling book, Peace Child, he tells of going, accompanied by his wife Carol and 17 month old child to the Sawi, a headhunting tribe in New Guinea. There, savagery was a way of life. The tribesmen considered headhunting, cannibalism, and treachery to be virtues. As these savages heard the story Jesus’ life, they considered Judas—not Jesus—to be the hero. Don reported being extremely frustrated about ever reaching the Sawi.

At last, the warfare and barbarism between the Sawi and their neighbor tribes grew so intense that Don and his family decided to leave. But when the Sawi heard of it, they were deeply disturbed. They had come to love and trust the Richardsons. To prevent their leaving, the Sawi met in a special session and decided to make peace.

The next day as Don watched with growing curiosity, the peace ritual began. Young children from the warring villages were to be exchanged, and as long as any of those children were alive, the peace would continue.

It was an anguishing ritual, for every mother feared that her child would be taken. But after a period of emotional indecision, the chief himself grabbed his only son and rushed toward the enemy tribe, literally giving the future of the tribe to his enemies. In return, he received a son from the other side. Peace descended across the mountains.

As Don pondered the significance of the ceremony, he realized there was a powerful Redemptive Analogy. Shortly afterward, Don gathered the elders together and told them how God, the Heavenly Father sent Jesus to earth as His Peace Child, to make peace between God and man. It was a lesson they understood and embraced at last.

Making the Connection between people who have different cultures can be extremely difficult. That is why the story of Christmas is so vital to the world and what God was hoping to accomplish. God desired to bridge the Gap that separates humanity from Him.

1. God in the Thunder

a. The majority of appearances by God in the Old Testament reflects the pattern found in Exodus 19:16-19 & 20:18-19. He was the God in the Thunder.

b. Exodus 19:16--On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled.

c. Exodus 20:18-19--When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance 19 and said to Moses, "Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die."

d. God tries to get closer to the people and His presence engulfs an entire mountain in cloud. His voice rings out in Thunder, lightning & fire rain down. This is the essence of Fire & Brimstone as the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah discovered. The people’s reaction was one of fear and trembling. They desired to stay as far away from God as possible. They said, “Hey Moses, why don’t you go and then tell us what He says.” We’re not going any closer.

e. God’s Thunder kept people at a distance and kept them afraid.

f. It is hard to have a personal relationship with someone that you are afraid of. It is difficult for love to truly exist when fear is so prevalent.

g. It’s no wonder that when an angel appears to most people, like Zechariah, like the Shepherds, the first thing he has to say is “Fear Not, do not be afraid”. An appearance by God or even one of His representatives typically blew people away.

h. A God who elicits this kind of response is exactly what made the Incarnation necessary. It’s what makes what we celebrate in Christmas so much more vital to our faith & the world. Because, after all,

2. Expecting the Grand Entrance

a. Read the story of the First Christmas through the eyes of someone expecting to see a grand entrance from God. Hear the story as if you were someone who only heard the grand entrances from the OT. You’d expect to be blown away by the magnitude and power of God.

b. Read Luke 2:4-7, 16-20

c. Is the Grand Entrance what you see and hear from the Manger? When Joseph and Mary trudge into Bethlehem, do the people around them know they’re about to receive a visit from God Himself?

d. Does the voice of Jesus shake the ground? Does it cause all those around Him to shrink away in fear?

e. No, the ground does not shake, the people of Bethlehem went about their daily lives, and instead of everyone shrinking away in fear from the voice of Jesus, they are drawn closer to the cries of a newborn baby. The type of cries that bring everyone who hears them over to look at the new life that has just made its dramatic entrance. The Shepherds come running to meet this new Savior.

f. In the best possible way, God does not overpower, intimidate or elicit fear. Who can be afraid of a tiny baby and their wiggling arms, eyes that cannot quite focus, their total dependence, their diapers… OK, I know a few guys afraid of the diapers.

g. That is the miracle of the Incarnation.

3. The Incarnation– in the Incarnation, God spanned the vast chasm of fear that distanced Him from His human creation

Paul expresses some of these ideas in the famous passage, Philippians 2:6-8

PHP 2:6 Who, being in very nature God,

did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death--even death on a cross!

One philosopher/theologian named Soren Kierkegaard wrote a story that has shared many variations that you are probably familiar with. “Suppose there was a king who was like no other king. Every statesman trembled before his power. No one dared breathe a word against him, for he had the strength to crush all opponents. And yet this king was melted by love for a humble maiden.

How could he declare his love for her? In an odd sort of way, his very kingliness tied his hands. If he brought her to the palace and crowned her head with jewels and clothed her body in royal robes, she would surely not resist—no one dared resist him. But would she love him?

She would say she loved him, of course, but would she truly? Or she would live with him in fear, nursing a private grief for the life she had left behind. Would she be happy at his side? How could he know? If he rode to her forest cottage in his royal carriage, with an armed escort waving bright banners, that too would overwhelm her. He did not want a cringing subject. He wanted a lover, an equal. He wanted her to forget that he was a king and she a humble maiden and to let shared love cross over the gulf between them. For it is only in love that the unequal can be made equal.

The king, convinced he could not elevate the maiden without crushing her freedom, resolved to descend. He clothed himself as a beggar and approached her in disguise, with a worn cloak fluttering about him. It wasn’t just a disguise, but a whole new identity he took on. He gave up his throne to win her hand.

a. Jesus Shared the nature, essence and being of God, so equality with God was not some prize or award He had to earn or attain.

b. The one who was existing in the form of God took on the form of a servant. The word "taking" (labon) does not imply an exchange, but rather an addition. The "form of God" could not be relinquished, for God cannot cease to be God; but our Lord could and did take on the very form of a lowly servant when he entered human life by the Incarnation.

c. How did Christmas day feel to God? Imagine for a moment becoming a baby again. Giving up language, your muscle coordination, control of your bladder, or the ability to eat solid food. Even that does not truly explain what it was like for God. Instead, try to imagine life as a bacteria or virus. God was willing to go to any length, descend from infinity to humanity, in order to connect personally with you and me.

4. Conclusion—

a. Ironically, while the emptying involved much humiliation and descent, it also involved a kind of freedom. I have spoken of some of the “disadvantages” of infinity and God’s power.

b. A physical body freed Christ to act on a human scale, without those “disadvantages” of infinity. He could say what He wanted without His voice blasting the treetops.

c. He could express anger reaching for a whip and clearing the temple, rather than shaking the earth with His stormy presence. And He could talk to anyone—a prostitute, a blind man, a widow, a leper, a shepherd, you and me—without first having to announce, “Do Not Be Afraid!”

d. But the greatest expression of Jesus’ humanity and what the Incarnation accomplished can be found near the end of His life on earth. We are able to see the Passion and Love of God. Jesus weeps and says…

e. MT 23:37 "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.

f. We are able to see and hear the passion in Jesus’ voice. This here is a demonstration of why He came and was born among the animals. God longs to gather His children together. He expresses is tenderly, with passion.

g. What Did God Accomplish with the Incarnation

i. Direct Face to Face Communication

ii. Non-Fear Inducing Conversation

iii. A Declaration of Love

iv. Guidance to Serve

v. Invitations to Eternity

h. The voice of God no longer needs to come through the Thunder Cloud. Instead, the Word of God entered this world with the cries of a little baby. Jesus’ voice no longer drives people away in fear. The first Christmas ensured that His voice is tenderly calling to you in order to establish and reconnect you with the source of all life. To my knowledge, the story that I shared earlier about the king who desired to win the love of the peasant does not resolve. We don’t know whether the king was successful in winning the love of the maiden. Has this King, the King of Kings won your love? His voice is calling you.

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