Augustine: Why the Incarnation?

At Christmas time we marvel at the purpose of Christ’s incarnation. He became poor to make us rich. Here is an excerpt from a sermon by Augustine, a North African pastor from the 4th century:

“The Word of the Father, by whom all time was created, was made flesh and was born in time for us. He, without   whose divine permission no day completes its course, wished to have one day for His human birth. In the bosom of His Father He existed before all the cycles of ages; born of an earthly mother, He entered upon the course of the years on this day.

The Maker of man became man that He, Ruler of the stars, might be nourished at the breast; that He, the Bread, might be hungry; that He, the Fountain, might thirst; that He, the Light, might sleep; that He, the Way, might be wearied by the journey; that He, the Truth, might be accused by false witnesses; that He, the Judge of the living and the dead, might be brought to trial by a mortal judge; that He, Justice, might be condemned by the unjust; that He, Discipline, might be scourged with whips; that He, the Foundation, might be suspended upon a cross; that Courage might be weakened; that Security might be wounded; that Life might die.

To endure these and similar indignities for us, to free us, unworthy creatures, He who existed as the Son of God before all ages, without a beginning, deigned to become the Son of Man in these recent years.

He did this, although He who submitted to such great evils for our sake, had done no evil and although we, who were the recipients of so much good at His hands, had done nothing to merit these benefits.”

Dealing with Depression at Christmas

Many of us deal with discouragement and depression during this season of the year. Some of us deal with deeply flawed marriages, unbelieving children, less than fulfilling careers, singleness, childlessness, broken dreams/relationships, and/or being falsely accused of something we didn’t say or do.

One key attribute of God that helps us face these dark days is God’s providence. The Westminster Catechism states that God’s works of providence are his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions. J.I. Packer defines providence like this: “God’s purposive, personal management with total ‘hands-on’ control of His entire universe. God is completely in charge of his world.”

King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 2-4 had to go through some very dark days due to his pride and rebellion against God. Listen to his testimony in Daniel 4:34-35
At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever,
for his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;
all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
or say to him, “What have you done?”

However, many persist in adhering to the thoughts of someone like Oscar Wilde who wrote: “There is enough misery and suffering in one city block of London to make me disbelieve in the providence of God.”

BB Warfield, the great Princeton theologian, was married to his sweetheart Annie Kinkad in 1876. They went on their honeymoon to Switzerland. Annie was struck by lightening and was an invalid the rest of her life. For thirty-nine years Dr. Warfield served his wife. He never went more than two hours away from home. He turned down many leadership appointments in his denomination in order to care for her. Listen to what He wrote in a devotional booklet on Romans 8:28 — “God will so govern all things that we shall reap only good from what befalls us.” WOW. What a comforting thought to know that in the end we shall reap only good from whatever befalls us. This is the faith response of a heart that is willing to trust all into the hands of a good, perfect, loving, faithful, and providential heavenly Father.

Every providence of our faithful God facilitates our spiritual good… freeing us from sin, bring us nearer to God, weaning us from the world, and fitting us for heaven.

Martin Lloyd-Jones offer this pastoral exhortation: “Do you know that God is over-ruling everything in the whole cosmos for your good? You cannot know it and be depressed at the same time; for such knowledge and depression are mutually exclusive.

Advent Devotional #3: Receiving the Riches of Grace

Have you ever seen or read about someone who devoted themselves exclusively to the preservation of their own life and their own resources with no regard for others? How would you describe their life? I have one word: Misery!

Remember the original Bah-humbug man in “A Christmas Carol ” – Ebenezer Scrooge? He was a cantankerous, old cynic, full of detestable greed. In the words of Charles Dickens, he was “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner. Hard and sharp as flint, from which not steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster… He edged his way along the crowded paths of life, warning all human sympathy to keep its distance.”

But even a man as hard as Ebenezer Scrooge can be transformed. Even he learns to love and care for others as he begins to know and experience grace.

This process of transformation happens for us as well, as we begin to understand why Jesus, the eternally rich God, became poor so that we might experience His riches.

The Apostle Paul writes to a Scrooge-like congregation to spur them on to meet the needs of suffering Jewish believers in Jerusalem. He doesn’t haunt them with three ghosts, but He reminds them of the invasion of divine generosity in the incarnation of Jesus Christ.

Please read II Corinthians 8:1-9.

God’s Word is full of paradoxes. This text contains one of the greatest paradoxes in all the Bible: through Christ’s poverty we become rich. The poverty of the eternally rich God makes spiritually impoverished people eternally rich.

Some think this verse means this: “Jesus died so that I might become monetarily rich! It says so right there: ‘So that you might become rich!’” But that interpretation wouldn’t support Paul’s point as encourages the Corinthians to abound in the grace of giving, like the Macedonians, who were poor monetarily, yet gave beyond their means.

The broader context of II Corinthians 8 unpacks these riches in three fundamental ways.

First of all, we are given genuine freedom to serve Christ and others. Here we have the riches of spiritual endowments, otherwise known as grace gifts, which are God-given capacities for service (II Corinthians 8:7 – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in giving). Charis is used both here and in the next verse as a spiritual endowment or gift of the Spirit. We are to excel and abound in using our spiritual gifts.

We excel in faith. We grow in our capacity to trust the Lord more fully, constantly, and unwaveringly. We excel in speech by confidently and boldly sharing our faith. Some of you are trusting God to give you the words and the opportunity to share Christ with unsaved loved ones this Christmas. Who is it that you will speak with this Advent season regarding your faith?

We excel in knowledge. We begin to grow in our grasp of the Bible — its contents, its teaching, its doctrine, and the whole history of redemption. Are you growing in your knowledge of Scripture? We tend to grow complacent. What is your plan for growth in your knowledge of Scripture?

We excel in giving. Generosity is not something that comes naturally but is the result of God’s grace in our lives. Realizing what God has done for us in Christ liberates us from a Scrooge-like mentality. We become like Christ as we act in our context in the same way Christ acted in His — giving our resources and ourselves for others because of our spiritual riches in Christ. Where do you need to fan into flame the gift that God has given you? (See II Timothy 1:7)

Secondly, we are given genuine freedom to love as the sons and daughters of God. Here we see the distinguishing mark of the children of God – earnest, genuine love (8:8). How are you doing at zealously loving others in your life? Where do you need to repent of the lovelessness in your friendships, your marriage, your family, and your church?

Lastly, we are given genuine freedom to live as the sons and daughters of God. Paul speaks of the riches of our eternal salvation in II Corinthians 8:9, and Isaac Watts summarizes it well in this hymn text: “Behold th’amazing gift of love; the Father hath bestowed; On us, the sinful sons of men, to call us sons of God!”

Ebenezer Scrooge is set free from living for himself and serving only himself. He actually begins to live in concert with the meaning of his name Ebenezer, which means “stone of help” (See 1 Samuel 7:12). He raises Bob Crachit’s salary and assists his struggling family. He becomes like a second father to Tiny Tim. He uses his wealth and resources to bless the lives of others. Dickens writes: “He became as good a friend, as good a master, as good a man, as the good old city knew.” Like our passage mentions, he began to know grace and it transformed him. In fact, this transformation enabled him to keep Christmas well. Remember, this was a man who had said: “If I could work my will, every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.”

Have you, like Scrooge, learned how to observe well the Christmas season? Ponder
your own spiritual poverty and your bondage to sin and its attendant consequence of death. But don’t stop there. There was another stone of help that was struck so that you might have life and the eternal riches. Reflect upon and revel in the riches that you have received: the freedom to serve, the freedom to love, and the freedom to live as the sons and daughters of God.

Compassion at Christmas Time – A Word from Henri Nouwen

“Let us not underestimate how hard it is to be compassionate. Compassion is hard because it requires the inner disposition to go with others to place where they are weak, vulnerable, lonely, and broken. But this is not our spontaneous response to suffering. What we desire most is to do away with suffering by fleeing from it or finding a quick cure for it.”

“Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.”
Henri J.M. Nouwen

Excerpt from Queen Elizabeth’s Christmas Address

Queen of United Kingdom (as well as Canada, Au...

Queen Elizabeth

“Although we are capable of great acts of kindness, history teaches us that we sometimes [or a little more] need saving from ourselves. From our recklessness or our greed. God sent into the world a unique person–neither a philosopher nor a general. . .But a Savior, with the power to forgive. Forgiveness lies at the heart of the Christian faith. . .It is in forgiveness that we feel the power of God’s love.”

Queen Elizabeth, 12/25/2011

Virgins Don’t Have Babies – C.S. Lewis

One day C.S. Lewis was sitting in his office in the English department when a friend, who was an unbeliever, wandered in. There were carolers below in the courtyard singing Christmas carols and as the two were speaking, they could hear them singing a Christmas carol that contained words about Jesus’ virgin birth.

His unbelieving friend said to C. S. Lewis, “Isn’t it good that we now know better than they did?” C. S. Lewis said, “What do you mean?” “Well, isn’t it good that we now know more than they did?” “I am afraid that you will have to explain,” Lewis said. “Well, isn’t it good that we now know that virgins don’t have babies?” C.S. Lewis looked at him incredulously and said, “Don’t you think that they knew that? That is the whole point.” Virgins don’t have babies.

The Cradle, The Cross and The Crown

Cradle
The cradle of Christmas proves that God is with us – Emmanuel. We are not alone in this world. We are not alone in our guilt, shame and struggle. We are not alone when we walk through the valley of the shadowlands.
Cross
The cross of Calvary proves that God is for us and not against us. We no longer have to work to earn His favor and acceptance. We enjoy God’s favor because the cross serves as proof.
Crown
Through his resurrection and ascension, Jesus is now crowned with glory and honor. The crown reminds us that God will ensure that we arrive safely home in glory. Jesus will triumph over all of his and our enemies. Our future is bright indeed. We can fight on behalf of those who are oppressed and weighed down with cares and guilt because the Lord goes before us and fights our battles for us.

I love the oft-repeated command in the Old Testament: “Stand still and see the salvation (deliverance) of your God.” My actions and lifestyle often reveal my struggle in really believing this, but His grace is sufficient.