Top Ten Reasons Christmas Doesn’t Need the Cross: #6

Jason Micheli —  December 12, 2013 — 2 Comments

lightstock_59323_small_user_2741517Every year during Advent we let our confirmation students loose through the church building to take an informal poll.

The question we give the confirmands is the same every year:

Why did Jesus come to earth?

In other words, why Christmas?

Every year the questions are the same and, remarkably, every year so are the answers. The needle doesn’t move at all.

More than 3/4 answer, year in and year out:

that Jesus comes

in order to die.

And the problem with that answer is…it’s wrong.

So I thought what better way to anticipate the ‘Feast of the Incarnation’ than with a series of posts, mining the riches of saints and church fathers on the logical necessity of the incarnation irrespective of the Fall.

In other words:

That if Adam had never sinned God still would have taken flesh in Mary’s womb. Or someone like her.

That Joseph (or someone like him) still would’ve laid God in a manger even if God had not needed to die for our sin.

That the Son still would’ve donned golden fleece diapers even if we hadn’t needed a Suffering Servant to bear our iniquity.

#6 Reason Why Christmas Doesn’t Need the Cross:

At-One-Ment

It was the Council of Chalcedon in the mid-5th century that hammered out the Christology (‘speech about Christ’) that became orthodox for Christians everywhere. According to the Chalcedon formula, the best way to refer to Jesus Christ is as ‘the God-Man.’ 

Makes him sound like a super-hero, I know, which is unfortunate since that’s the last thing the Church Fathers were after. Their formula was just the best way to insure that latter day Jesus-followers like us didn’t forget that Jesus the Son is true God and true Man, without division or confusion between his two natures.

He is fully both God and Man. img26064

And, in a latent sense, he has always been both.

Eternally.

In other words, the Son who is the 2nd Person of the Trinity was always going to be the eternal Son who became incarnate and thus the son of somebody like Mary.

According to Maximus the Confessor– indisputably one of the greatest minds in the history of the faith, someone who could even out smoke, out drink and punch out Karl Barth:

the Chalcedonian formula necessitates that we affirm that the incarnate Logos is the elect unifier of all things that are separated.

Whether- and this is key- by nature or by sin.

We all know Sin separated us from God. That’s an every Sunday, altar call kind of presumption- so much so, in fact, that we neglect to remember or notice that less nefarious but even more fundamental fact separates us from the infinite.

Our finitude. Our createdness. Our materiality.

That the son of Mary is the eternal-eventually-to-become-incarnate Son of the God we call Trinity shows, says Maximus, that the Logos is the One through whom all things physical and spiritual, infinite and finite, earthly and heavenly, created and uncreated would be united and made one.

Union, says Maximus, was God’s first and most fundamental aim.

At-onement of a different sort.

Jesus isn’t made simply to forgive or die for our sins. Because if Christ is the God-Man, then everything goes in the other direction.

Jesus isn’t made for us; we were made for him. By him.

We are the ones with whom, through him, God wants to share God’s life.

It’s not that Jesus is the gift God gives us at Christmas; it’s that at Christmas we finally discover that we’re the gift God has given to himself.

We’re the extravagance the superabundant love of Father, Son and Spirit gratuitously seek to share with one another.

Jesus is the reason for the season, but the reason for Jesus is that before the stars were hung in place, before Adam sinned or Israel’s love failed God’s deepest desire is, was and always will be friendship.

With us.

 

Jason Micheli

Posts

2 responses to Top Ten Reasons Christmas Doesn’t Need the Cross: #6

  1. By all means, God from all eternity intends to be God-with-us, as the Bible makes clear in Genesis 1-3. Literally, God is walking around in the garden with the first humans. If that’s not God-with-us, I don’t know what else would be. It doesn’t matter whether you say it’s anthropomorphic or figurative: we have a story that clearly teaches that in the beginning God is with us, in a harmonious relationship, and sin disrupts that relationship.

    The first eleven chapters of Genesis offer a frightening account of the problem of sin. God needs to solve that problem in order to have a relationship, to be with us as he intended from the beginning. The incarnation is the culmination of that solution, first begun with Abraham, which culminates in the cross. In my mind, while it might be nice philosophical theology, it goes beyond scripture to speculate what God would or wouldn’t have done had sin not entered the picture—as God must have foreknown. What we know for sure from the Bible is that the incarnation solves the problem of sin. Whatever else it is or represents, it is that.

    One burden we ought to share as Protestants—whether we’re evangelical or not—is to conform our theology to scripture first. I don’t believe that what you’ve represented here does justice to what scripture teaches about sin and evil. I’ve read some Hart (from whom, I’m guessing, you’re borrowing some of your ideas): in Doors of the Sea, in his effort to let God off the hook for evil and suffering, he ends up failing to do justice to the Bible’s account of God’s sovereignty, and the way in which God redeems evil and suffering.

    If you’re fairly representing Hart’s arguments here, I believe he’s making the same mistake.

    Besides, if you want to quote patristics, Irenaeus would go along with my point: God assumes humanity because the only “theater” in which God can heal us of our sin problem—and restore within us the image of God, as both Irenaeus and Wesley would say—is within humanity itself. For Irenaeus, the meaning of the incarnation is still salvation, regardless of the extent to which he emphasizes the cross.

    Is that to say that the incarnation isn’t also a beautiful reflection of God’s original desire to be God-with-us? Of course not. It’s not as clear to me as it is to you how God’s impulse to be united with us and God’s impulse to redeem us are separate things. You can’t have one without the other—as God knew from all eternity. The lamb was slain before the foundation of the world, right?

    I think Ephesians 5 is the most beautiful statement about the incarnation imaginable. It’s literally a love story: just as man leaves his family and home and united with his bride, so God the Son leaves his Father and his heavenly home and unites with humanity, his bride. But the context of Paul’s words is still related to salvation and redemption.

    Again, we need to deal with what the Bible says first. It’s not clear to me that these series of posts are doing that.

    • When I say that Hart is making the same mistake, I mean the mistake of failing to do justice to what scripture teaches. In his tradition, that’s fine. But as Wesleyans, aren’t we supposed to be evangelical? Bible first?

Leave a Reply

Text formatting is available via select HTML. <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

*

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.