Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Mary what did you know?

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As we just finished the last Sunday of Advent and get ready to plunge into Christmas, there is no getting away from the holiday music on the radio(some of which was playing since Thanksgiving).  While we have traditional and secular songs abound, the occasional religious one will appear.   One that is particular striking is “Mary did you know?” where in the version I most recently heard Kenny Rogers and Wynonna Judd sung speculations of what Mary may have or may not have known about the child Jesus.  

While I’m tempted to write off the entire song as speculative theology which discounts the human nature of Jesus.  Which makes the “No crying he makes” line from Away in the Manger theologically inaccurate.  I would like to delve into what Mary actually did know and how this knowledge might have affected her.
If we start for the stance that Mary is a mortal woman, she can only know things based on what she is told and can perceive with her senses, just like you and me.

Infancy narrative in Luke

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In the gospel of Luke we have the infancy narrative of the Annunciation by the angel Gabriel.  Beside explaining to her that she is favored by God what does the angel tell her about her soon to be conceived child?   

And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; 33 and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” Luke 1: 31-33

 The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. Luke 1:35

From this we see that Mary knows some things about the divinity of Jesus:

  •          He will be great
  •          He will be called the Son of the Most High
  •         The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David
  •          He will reign over the house of Jacob forever
  •          His kingdom will have no end
  •          The holy Child shall be called the Son of God

That is a lot of information and it is not clear how much Mary understood since the Angel did not elaborate on the details of all of these things, even though she willingly accepted the will of God.

Mary Encounters Elizabeth

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When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 And she cried out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me Luke 1:41-43

Mary knows that the child causes others to be filled with the Holy Spirit and Elizabeth recognizes the child as Lord.

Mary and the Shepherds

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But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:10-11

When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. Luke 2:17-19

 From the shepherds Mary learns:

  •       Jesus is Savior
  •       Jesus is Christ the Lord

Presentation of Jesus 

29 “Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace,
According to Your word;
30 For my eyes have seen Your salvation,
31 Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 A Light of revelation to the Gentiles,
And the glory of Your people Israel.”
33 And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him. 34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed— 35 and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” Luke 2:29-35

Mary realizes in amazement :

  •          Jesus will be a revelation to the Gentiles
  •          The rise and fall of Israel
  •          A revealer of hearts
  •          Her own heart will be pierced

Finding in the Temple at Jerusalem

And He said to them, “Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?” 50 But they did not understand the statement which He had made to them. 51 And He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and He continued in subjection to them; and His mother treasured all these things in her heart. Luke 2:49-51

We see that Mary had an understanding based on what she was told by the angels, shepherds and prophets but not of the specifics.  Even during the first miracle at the wedding at Cana, she doesn’t come out and say “I know who you are, can you miraculously make wine” she merely told the servants to do whatever he tells you. 

So when Kenny Rogers asks “Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy would one day walk on water?” and “Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy would save our sons and daughters?” The answer has a mixed, yes she knew he was the destined to be the savior of the world, but did not know the specific path that would take or the road to Jerusalem that he would follow to give us all that salvation.  Yes she did know that her Baby Boy is heaven's perfect Lamb and the sleeping Child you're holding is the Great, I Am.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Advent Theology Lesson

As we wrap up Advent and begin to look forward to Christmas (liturgically speaking, Wal mart has been look at Christmas since October) I wanted to give a more theological look at the nativity and how this one baby coming into the world brought us salvation.    

Incarnation literally means to become flesh.  So the God that created the world in Genesis through speaking things into being takes on flesh.  As John says in chapter 1 “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us”.  This God that had been transcendent throughout human history since the falloff mankind literally takes on flesh to come dwell with His creation.  Hence we have the story of the nativity.  This is the reason the world rejoiced because God came down from heaven to dwell with us and he came with a purpose that would be seen later.

The child in the manger is not just a baby he is God.  How can he be both human and God?  Our salvation depends on him being both God and man, if he is not both we are not saved.  The theological term for the nature of Jesus is Hypostatic union, the combination of both humanity and divinity into one person.

Hypostatic union
Throughout Church history there has been debate on the nature of Jesus.  Theologian and Churhc Councils have were debating this in the 3rd and 4th century.  So as not to get too deep into the argument and heresies, one misconception is Jesus is God but puts on humanity like a coat and is not really human.  On the other end of the spectrum is that Jesus was a very wise person and not really God akin to the prophets of the Old Testament.  Both of these interpretations are incorrect.   

The original covenant was between God and man in the garden.  Adam and Eve broke that covenant and mankind’s relationship with God was permanently severed.  Salivation is  not something we can do on our own, salvation only comes from God.  This is where the nature of Jesus is important for our salvation. 

If Jesus is only God and not man, God would die for himself and human would not be in the equation and would not be saved or back in right relation with God.  

If Jesus is only a enlightened scholar, then only a human died and there is no divinity in the sacrifice and God in not involved and it does not rise to the level of God.

Therefore to be at the level of God and for humans to be saved Jesus (the sacrifice) had to be both fully human and fully divine.  If that is not the case it doesn’t work.

So the baby in the cradle fully human in all ways except sin and fully divine and we see both natures throughout Jesus life.   He grows in wisdom and has emotions like anger and sadness (human nature) but he also does miracles and healings (divine nature). 

To bear this perfect hypostatic union God-man person, not just any womb will do.  Sure God could have “Poof” appeared in 1st century Palestine.  But he chose to come into the world as baby.  To do that he needed a perfect unblemished vessel.  As Jesus is the New Covenant he needed an arc similar to the arc of the covenant of the Old Testament (or from the Indiana Jones movie for those with more of a pop cultural understanding of things).  To be unblemished it had to be virgin and without sin.  God did preplanning for this when Mary was born without sin in the Immaculate Conception. 

Immaculate Conception
Mary was born into world without the stain of original sin that everyone is born.  We have this stain removed through the sacrament of baptism.  By Mary not having original sin the God –man is able to gestate in an unblemished womb capable of holding God.  If Mary had not been born without sin she would not have been the unblemished arc of the covenant that God needed to bring himself into the world.  As Jesus was conceived through the Holy Spirit and his father is God we have the Virgin Birth. 

Virgin Birth
Jesus is the Son of God conceived through the Holy Spirit.  The skeptic will say how is that possible?  Mary asked the same question in Luke 1 34:35

Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.

So Jesus the hypostatic union of both God and man comes into the world to dwell with us and ultimately to save us from our sins and bring us back into right relationship with God.  

So when you see a nativity scene this season, recognize the gravity of the scene.  This cannot be diluted into a pretty scene of a child being born in a barn.  But a powerful scene of the creator of the universe who spoke the world into being, becomes human while maintaining his divinity, to get us back in right relation with Himself.   

That is the power of the incarnation.