Jesus, The First Born of Creation: An Offer of Peace to a Hostile World

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The Son is the image of the invisible God,
        the one who is first over all creation,

Because all things were created by him:
        both in the heavens and on the earth,
        the things that are visible and the things that are invisible.
            Whether they are thrones or powers,
            or rulers or authorities,
        all things were created through him and for him.

He existed before all things,
        and all things are held together in him.

He is the head [i.e. source of life] of the body, the church,
who is the beginning,
        the one who is firstborn from among the dead
        so that he might occupy the first place in everything.

Because all the fullness of God was pleased to live in him,
and he reconciled all things to himself through him—
        whether things on earth or in the heavens.
            He brought peace through the blood of his cross.

Colossians 1:15-20

Identity

The story of our relationship with Jesus does not begin in a manger. In Colossians we learn that the story of the Incarnation in relation to us goes back further than one might have first thought—to creation. Our access to God and life has always come through Christ, Jesus and we were in fact, created by, for and through him.

Regarding the latter, an interesting way to understand in what way we were created through the Son is to consider that something “other” than God can exist because there is distinction within the Trinity. Creation and humanity can exist on the basis of the Son’s free self-distinction from the Father (Pannenberg, Systematic Theology Vol 2, 30). Further, our existence as image bearers has always been based in the natural image of the invisible God—Jesus—and of course that gets into some very odd, yet highly plausible understandings of time.

*Exiting the Dr. Who universe now.

That said, we have always had access to God in Christ. Our very identities as image bearers are premised off of his identity and ultimate unity with us by nature. We were called to represent God in this world of whom Jesus is the perfect representation.

In the beginning we were created to be like priests or divine images set up in God’s temple, the earth (Genesis uses Near Eastern temple language to describe creation such as for example the 7 days/time periods among other things) . We were told to rule the earth together and to see one another as counterparts (i.e. the correspondence language all over Genesis).

And yet, we rejected God’s vision for us. We rejected our calling.

Rebellion

Our ancestors and the rest of us when we pattern ourselves after them, choose “wisdom” apart from God. The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was not an “evil” or bad tree, but we were told to depend on God and not partake of it at the time. We thought we could live well apart from the source of all life and wisdom. We decided to rebel against the God we were supposed to represent, the one whom all rule and authority was created for and as a result we sought to dominate one another, avoid responsibility, exploit and even murder.

The earth itself suffered. And continues to. Romans describes creation itself as groaning.

God sent us many messengers and envoys and made many accommodations to our warped understandings of power (i.e. Israel insists on a King and God finally relents). Yet we killed his messengers and refused to follow his ways again and again. And we all suffered. And most of our suffering comes from other humans.

Finally, the true and perfect “image of the invisible God” was sent to offer us peace and help us pattern ourselves after him. We killed him.

But what hate destroys, love resurrects.

God Shows Us How To Be Human

The birth , life, death and resurrection of Jesus stand concretely as a declaration of God’s power and love and hope for our future. While we were “estranged and hostile in mind” to God’s purposes, he reconciled with us with his own body. He showed us a new life orientation, one that surrenders zero-sum understandings of power, grandiosity and self-love at the expense of others.

Our egos and desperate efforts to have pride of place at the table were met by the true owner of the table who took the last place and welcomed those we looked down upon to it. He dared to side with the marginalized in front of us. He found those people we exploited and labeled as undesirable “sinners” and not only welcomed them but told "telling” stories in front of us all where they were set as the heroes, true sons, or valued and we were cast as the “sinners” or in rebellion against God (i.e. the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, The Two Sons, The King and Debtors…etc). He named our sins in front of everyone. He outsmarted us as we tried to trap him into saying something to get himself killed. It didn’t work and so we made stuff up and found him guilty in secret so no one could call us out for our evil.

He not only valued and raised up the marginalized, he became the marginalized. And he knew he would. He knew what kind of people we were when he came. He knew how tightly we held onto power and our false gods, ourselves. He kept living, modeling how we were called to act and would not stop. He did say that in order to truly live one must be willing to be brutally killed for living the way we were supposed to live—pure allegiance and devotion to our true calling.

In the end, we had to crucify him. We had to humiliate him, distort who he was and get rid of him so that we could continue what we were doing. People liked him too much and they started to think in ways that were not so beneficial for us. And really, he did say he was willing to pay this price. But nor our evil narratives nor the crushing power of Rome would have the final say.

God Unveils His Future

The physical body of Jesus was brought back to life but in such a way that transcended even a prefall state. God had sent us an offer of peace in human form and we more than rejected it. Jesus’ resurrection not only vindicated his message (he was not cursed by God), stood as God’s answer to injustice, but renewed the offer for peace. He lived the life we could not live as God’s representative and paid the ultimate price for it uniting the human with the divine and opened up the doors for us to also live as he did and except the offer of peace with God by the Holy Spirit. His resurrected body is also the first of many. His resurrection is a sign pointing out our own future and what it could be and look like, a reversal of the damage and transformation into something godly.

Our next move?

"Being Born in Human Likeness:" Incarnation, Rectification and Apocalyptic Hope

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After a long year of struggle and personal difficulty (including the loss of two family members; an uncle and an aunt), I have begun to think a lot about the human body. Seeing death up close is an odd experience, especially in the sense of being near to someone who is dear to you. The smell of skin becoming cold, the hiss of oxygen entering lungs, the tang of cold sweat in the air. Whether a funeral or a deathbed, I have come to see again the cold and cruel pattern of the world. Life is fleeting, distant, and calculated in its finitude.

"For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin."

While the incarnation of the Son is not fundamentally about death, death itself is concerned with the incarnation. For those among us who are pastors, or indeed human, we see such things in our daily lives – whether on the news or on the road. Death and violence are staples of the human diet and there is something fundamentally enslaving about this notion. It is a crippling fear, something the author of the Hebrews asserts:

 Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people.

The incarnation, even in all of its glory, is a punctiliar act that recognizes the obvious thing among us: death and life are antinomies that propel and cripple us, pushing and pressing us onto the deathbed alongside our families and friends and even our enemies. The incarnation forces us to consider the ugly realities of this present evil age, and then we are forced to ask—along with a multitude of the dead—"how long, O Lord?"

The Psalmist writes, " My soul also is struck with terror, while you, O Lord—how long?" (6:3). It is as if the Psalmist recognizes the lack of God's action, demanding to know what the Sovereign creator of the universe is on about.

The incarnation, therefore, is concerned with the realities of our present word, and speaks power into every instance of our existence.

God has not been silent in his world, nor has he ignored the plight of his people. As God remembered the faithful prayers of Hannah (1 Samuel 1) and his covenant to Abraham (Exodus 2:24; 6:5), so too has he remembered the images and instances of injustice and death in our world.

The incarnation is not an event divorced from history, nor is the incarnation a severance of God's dealings with history. Rather the incarnation is the apocalyptic and punctiliar event that illustrates God's action in a world that has not been abandoned

But he emptied himself by taking the form of a slave and by becoming like human beings. When he found himself in the form of a human, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil 2:7-8).

In reflecting upon the incarnation, we return to this idea of the crippling power of the terror of death. In becoming human (ἄνθρωπος), the Son has not excluded anyone from his witness nor excluded anyone from his love. In becoming human, the Son has included all people within the reality he imbibed. We look to the glory of the Son and see the fullness of God in bodily form, inviting us into reconciliation with God (2 Cor 5).

"We have seen his glory."

Thus, while we grieve and struggle, we also remember in this dark time that God has not hid himself from our sins or our trials. God-in-Christ has entered our world as King and liberator, dedicated to our bodies by becoming like us in every way. The Son did not hide himself from our presence and seeks our liberation as embodied beings, he himself just like us.

"What came into being through the Word was life, and the life was the light for all people."

And thus we pray, and hope, that all shall be well. Until then, we live in the immanent shadow of anticipation, living our lives with faith and hope, serving one another in love and joy, awaiting the coming of our great God and Savior.

Until then, we hope.

NQ

What Christmas is all about: Paul, ἀπολύτρωσις and the Grinch

I was baking dark chocolate chip peanut butter cookies (sprinkled with sea salt) and had a thought. Well. I had many thoughts, but the one I wanted to write down and share was this:

What did Paul say about Christmas?

Obviously, this is rather dumb, but roll with me for another paragraph or two.

Paul has been called many things throughout Church history. Thomas Jefferson believed he "corrupted" the doctrines of Jesus. In short, many think Jesus is Cindy Lou Who and Paul is the Grinch, except Paul's heart never grew.

Paul obviously did not have a doctrine of Christmas, nor would he likely be down with American Christmas—not that there is anything wrong with that. Rather, I'm curious about how Paul approached something similar to how we celebrate Christmas. In celebrating the birth of the Messiah of Israel, I harken back to two Pauline texts:

Ephesians 4:30: καὶ μὴ λυπεῖτε τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον τοῦ θεοῦ, ἐν ᾧ ἐσφραγίσθητε εἰς ἡμέραν ἀπολυτρώσεως—"and do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you have been sealed for the Day of Liberation."                                                                                 

Galatians 4:4: ὅτε δὲ ἦλθεν τὸ πλήρωμα τοῦ χρόνου, ἐξαπέστειλεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ, γενόμενον ἐκ γυναικός, γενόμενον ὑπὸ νόμον—"but when the fullness of time came, God sent his son, born from a woman, born under the law."

Monographs have been written exploring these two texts, but taken together on the eve of Christmas Eve, they convey a powerful Pauline truth: the day of Liberation (ἀπολύτρωσις), the Day of being set free from Sin and Death has been inaugurated. These powers have been capsized. The birth of Christ codifies the hope of liberation, and Christmas is one small part of that. That is worth remembering.

Paul, far from being a Grinch during the holiday season, gives us cause to rejoice, to laugh, and to consider our own status as being "bought back" from the Powers of Sin and Death. This makes sense of Galatians 4:5 where the aorist verb ἐξαγοράσῃ is used to speak about us being bought back from the law and from being enslaved. Everything, for Paul, was about liberation.

Plus, Paul was totally down with wine. How could he be a Grinch after that?

Christmas, then, is liberation from the sins of the world. This is actualized in the birth of the Messiah, and our hope of resurrection.

So. Yeah, this was kinda silly, but I was thinking a lot about it, and I suspect Paul has a lot more to say about Christmas than I can offer in this blog post.

Blessings and Merry Christmas!

NQ