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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas from Jesus' POV

Over the years I've read many Christmas articles, and heard many Christmas sermons. (Check out the excellent Christmas series by Glenn, our preaching pastor.) I don't recall ever hearing or reading anything about what it was like for Jesus to come at Christmas. What was Jesus' point of view on his coming into the world and being born?

In my study of the New Testament, and Hebrews in particular, there are six areas that stand out to me.

Heb 10:5-10 is the passage that stood out to me and put me in mind of this topic. I see here that obedience to his Father is what was primary in the thoughts of the Second Person of the Trinity as he took on human flesh and was born in Bethlehem. Throughout his life Jesus stated that he had not come to do his will, but his Father's will. This was most evident in his prayers the night before his crucifixion, when he asked that the cross and its suffering be allowed to pass by him - but, not Jesus' will, but his Father's. And he was obedient to death, even death on a cross. (Matt 26:39; Phil 2:8) I am reminded of the words of the hymn, "Word of the Father, Now in flesh appearing." As God's word (John 1:1), he faithfully states and lives out his Father's thoughts, not his own. My favorite movie and book series, The Lord of the Rings, contains several Christ-figures. Frodo is one of these. At first he is reluctant to take on the ring and the task of its destruction. At last he does, but he would rather not. He is a reluctant savior. At one point, Galadriel tells him, “This task was appointed to you. And if you do not find a way, no one will.” So too for Jesus. If he had not obeyed his Father, then there would have been no way of salvation. But praise God, Jesus was not a relectant savior, but an eager one.

"O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear"
These words capture well the longing that Israel felt at the time that Jesus was born. Herod and Rome were oppressive; people longed for release and freedom. Of course, the central issue that separates Judaism from Christianity is that God's fulfillment was not what the Jews expected and so they rejected Jesus. Yet, God had promised redemption, and Jesus was the fulfillment of that redemptive plan that God had begun centuries before. The sacrifices of the OT were not God’s goal – they were given to prepare the way for God’s people to understand the need for Jesus. Jesus came to set aside the first order of things, so that the second order would come (Look back at Heb 8:8-13).

God’s plan all along had been the Incarnation. The words of the Christmas hymns say it well:
"God of God, Light of Light;
Lo, he abhors not the Virgin’s Womb”
“Veiled in flesh the Godhead see,
Hail th’incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with men to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel”

Jesus taking on humanity was not an afterthought with God, it was his only plan all along. Nor did Jesus do so reluctantly, it pleased Jesus that he should be joined with us forever in our humanity. Here’s a link that illustrates well this idea.

I also wrote about a year ago about how Jesus' being born of a woman lifts up women in their reproductive role, so I won’t repeat it again here.

Continuing the previous idea, we see that Jesus identified with us in our humanity. Heb 2:11, 14-18 tells us that those who are being redeemed are one family, and that Jesus took on flesh because we are human. He did this so that he could destroy death and so that he could destroy Satan. He had to be human so that he could be our high priest and be able to be our mediator between us and God.

Phil 2:5-7 is the main passage for this idea. We think of the shame and humiliation brought to Mary, Joseph, their families, and to Jesus himself as he was viewed as illegitimate. (see A Not-So-Silent-Night) We think of the upset of Mary and Joseph's plans for their lives as God's plans took over. And then we should dwell on what it meant for the Lord of Glory to leave heaven and become one of us.
Man’s maker was made man,
that He, Ruler of the stars, might nurse at His mother’s breast;
that the Bread might hunger,
the Fountain thirst,
the Light sleep,
the Way be tired on its journey;
that the Truth might be accused of false witness,
the Teacher be beaten with whips,
the Foundation be suspended on wood;
that Strength might grow weak;
that the Healer might be wounded;
that Life might die.

- Augustine of Hippo (Sermons 191.1) (from Kingdom People)

Jesus shows us what God is like, and we should understand that God is humble. The second person of the trinity did not grasp at his position, but instead took a very low place, both in the grand scheme of things, and on Earth as well. God humiliated himself. And above all, the cross loomed ahead. He knew that he came to be the sacrifice. See Heb 10:10

The book of Hebrews refers to Jesus being perfected. What does this mean? Was Jesus less than perfect? Was he imperfect in a moral state? No, the term can also refer to becoming mature or complete, and that is the sense that the word was used. Jesus was God, but he had to prove himself worthy of being the sacrifice and worthy of being our high priest. As a prince has to mature and grow and prove himself worthy of assuming the kingship, so too Jesus proved himself worthy. How did he do this? He did it by not grasping what was his - the position and prerogatives of deity. He did it by assuming the position of a servant - a lowly human, a Jew (not an educated Greek or a superior Roman), and a peasant at that. He proved himself worthy by being tempted and not giving in. He proved himself worthy by showing himself to be a servant of his own disciples. He proved himself by being obedient to death, even death on a cross. He learned obedience through his suffering. And he has shown himself to be what he always was - God's son.
Because of his obedience, God has given him what he has earned. He has earned the right to be the high priest for his people, and the right to be lord of the universe. The prince has earned his position and earned the respect of everyone.
Praise be to God.

More thoughts on educational motivation

After the one comment on my last blog post where I suggested paying students for learning, I realized that I need to clarify my thoughts.

The problem in education isn't necessarily that students don't want to learn. Often times they do, but they they lack the motivation (for many reasons) to do the work that school asks them to do. Yes, we can (and should) carry out the suggestions that were mentioned in the comments on my last post, but there are times that those suggestions aren't enough. I remember studying for Organic Chemistry, and Calculus 2, and Master's written exams, and Doctoral written and oral exams. I enjoyed the learning part, but the work itself was absolute drudgery. If students receive the message that learning and school work (both) are always relevant to life, and fun - then how will they handle the difficult courses in high school and college that aren't relevant to life, and aren't fun? How and when will they learn to work, to show up on time, and do the assignment as assigned by the teacher (boss), if not in school?

As I see it, schools are in the business of doing two things that pertain to this discussion. (There are a lot of other tasks they are asked to do as well, but those aren't in view here.) The first is teaching knowledge and skills in many different areas. The second is practicing and developing work habits and ethics. We tend to forget that these are two separate issues. Students can learn and never do any work. Students can do the work, and yet not learn. I've seen both. (Nevertheless, there is a correlation between working in school and learning, so I'm not advocating tossing the system.)

Consider this: most of my best students don't work in my classes for the sake of learning - they are motivated by grades. What's the matter with motivating students who aren't motivated by grades with money? Either way, it's an extrinsic motivation.

More comments?