Mark 1:1 & 10:45
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
December 24, 2017 – Daytime Services
The Gospel writer Mark calls his account of God’s incarnation “the good news”. Jesus’ life on earth proclaimed the very good news that God, out of love, descended from heaven to serve sinners and to give His life a ransom for many.
That descent and self-sacrifice involved Him in tremendous deprivation, pain and uncertainty.
Try to imagine how Christmas day felt to the Son of God. That day the King of glory became clothed with blood and embryonic fluid, and matted with hay soaked with cattle slobber. That day the Almighty Lord had no muscle strength or bladder control. That day the Word of all wisdom had no capacity to speak. The sovereign Ruler of the universe had become a helpless, dependent, vulnerable baby.
That risky arrival into this troubled world was just the first step in a life-long walk of unrelenting vulnerability. Jesus devoted the best years of His life to serving sinners with no promise of their making much of His efforts and to fighting evil with no guarantee of protection from its violent opposition.
Though we like to dwell on the heart-warming and endearing aspects of the nativity, it shows that God had chosen to make Himself fragile and breakable, Someone we could hurt, brutalize and even kill.
There is the uniqueness of the Christian faith. No other religion – not secularism, paganism, Eastern religion, Judaism or Islam – depicts God bearing the full oppressive weight of a world gone terribly wrong.
Our Muslim neighbors, for example, find the whole idea of God’s incarnation an offensive affront to the honor of the Supreme Being.
Pastor John Dickson once, at a university campus in Sydney, Australia, spoke about the incarnation and God’s subsequent suffering. During the question-and-answer time, a Muslim rose to protest how “preposterous it was to claim that the Creator of the universe should be subjected to the forces of His own creation – that He would eat, sleep and go to the toilet, let alone die on a cross.” This man went on to argue that it was illogical that God, the “cause of all causes”, would allow pain to be inflicted upon Him by lesser beings. Dickson respectfully heard him out, refraining from rebutting his thoughts. The Christian simply thanked the Muslim for clarifying what is unique about Christianity; and concluded, “What Muslims denounce as blasphemous, Christians hold precious: God has wounds.”
Actually, many have come to love the Son of God because He has wounds.
Nabeel Qureshi, raised in the Muslim faith but now a follower of Jesus, had a “resolutely” Muslim friend named Sahar who was attracted to much about Christianity but who dogmatically rejected the idea that the Holy and Almighty might ever become as vulnerable as the New Testament depicts Jesus did. Jesus’ humiliation and degradation, Sahar asserted, was beneath the dignity and the majesty of the one true God.
Qureshi tried to give Sahar a sense of how God’s incarnation was actually an essential expression of God’s greatness in love. She said to Sahar, “Suppose you’re on your way to a very important ceremony, dressed in your finest clothes. You are about to arrive, exactly on time, but you suddenly see your daughter drowning in a sewer pool of mud. What would you do? Let her drown and arrive on time in your uncompromised dignity, or would you yourself jump into the mud and save her?”
Sahar responded, “Of course, I would save her, and I could ask no one else to do it for me. For no one cares about her as I, for she is my beloved child. How could I send anyone else? No one would do for her as I would. I would muddy myself and sacrifice anything for her.”
Qureshi replied, “If you, being human, love your daughter so much that you’d be willing to lay aside your dignity and safety to save her, shouldn’t we expect God, if he is our loving Father, to set aside his majesty and to suffer indignity and vulnerability in order to save us from drowning in the mud of our sin?”
As Sahar continued to study the scriptures, she came to see the transcendent glory of God’s great love in the depths of Jesus’ descent, a descent that besmirched His reputation and brought about His hellish suffering at the hands of the unrighteous. That self-sacrificial humiliation for love’s sake won Sahar’s heart to Jesus.
Christians often say, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” But it is truer to say, “You and I are the reason for the season.” We are why God humbled Himself in human flesh. He did it to establish a real, deep and everlastingly enduring relationship with us.
There is no chance to have any real, deep and enduring relationship without embracing susceptibility to pain and uncertainty and exposing oneself to possible hurt, rejection and betrayal. In reaching out to us by becoming human, the Divine risked much. Yet, because it was required for our reconciliation, the incarnation became a necessity arising out of God’s longing for us, an imperative of His heart of love. He so wanted to enjoy our friendship that He had to come down to our level, meet us on our ground, make our problems His own, and do everything within His power – no matter how much it made Him suffer or look bad – to ransom and restore us.
For our sake God, by the incarnation, went to infinite lengths to redeem us. The incarnation’s creation of just the possibility of human-divine reconciliation made all the difficulty, denigration and danger worth the suffering.
C.S. Lewis gives us a wonderful picture of what was going on in the incarnation. Imagine, he says, a diver springing off a high cliff overlooking a deep and turbulent sea, plunging downward like a plummeting falcon, breaking through the cement-hard surface of the water with a violent splash, and then vanishing from sight. Underneath the raging waves the diver rushes down through green and warm water into black and cold water, descending deeper and deeper through the increasing pressure into the deathlike region of ooze and slime and old decay – only, after finishing his work at the murky bottom, to turn around and swim back up, to rise up again into color and light, with lungs almost bursting, until he breaks the surface once more, holding in his hand, in triumph and joy, the dripping, precious thing he went down to recover.
That dripping, precious thing is you and I.
That’s the meaning of Christmas. That’s the good news that Mark’s Gospel proclaims.
That’s the love of God, the God who took flesh in a baby to serve sinners and to give His life a ransom for many.
May we this Christmas – either for the very first time or as never before – decide to be among the many who believe this good news and receive all the blessings of this Ancient Child, this God-Man. Let us pray.
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