"...herein the providence of God has established a great safeguard to our faith, so that, while the worship of the Saviour's earliest infancy is repeated year by year, the production of true man's nature in Him might be proved by the original verifications themselves. For this it is that justifies the ungodly, this it is that makes sinners saints, to wit the belief in the true Godhead and the true Manhood of the one Jesus Christ, our Lord: the Godhead, whereby being before all ages 'in the form of God' He is equal with the Father: the Manhood whereby in the last days He is united to Man 'in the form of a slave.'"
Saint Leo the Great
This coming Sunday, we will celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, inaugurating the third season of the Christian Year. This annual remembrance focuses us on the manifestation of the only-begotten Son of God in the flesh for our salvation, whereby we not only understand the true nature of God, but whereby we also understand what it means to be made in His likeness and image. My friend Jim Packer likes to say that to be made in the image of God means that we were made to be like Jesus, to behold the glory of the Father with our human eyes. This entails knowing Jesus, seeking to conform our lives to His divine life.
For the Christian, true believing is not an abstraction, but founded upon the concrete, the manifestation of the Divine Son of God in the flesh, in a particular time and a particular place, and to a particular people. Growing up as I did in the bowels of mainline, broad church Episcopalianism, this was and is good news to me. My Sunday School teachers tended to say things like "What can we really know about God after all?". They were believers in the "god of the gaps," an entirely sterilized and depersonalized god. I'm not sure what they thought of the Incarnation, but it was never taught. It was only when I fell in among radical, Nashotah House-trained priests who had been well-formed in the tradition, men who knew Scripture well, that I learned the truth. I will be forever grateful for their witness, because they emphasized the Incarnation, the revealing of Jesus to the world, not as some perfectly nice, sterile doctrine, but as the world-changing, challenging, and radical love of God.
They challenged me, at fifteen years old, to read C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity, wherein I read that the Incarnation "illuminates and orders all other phenomena, explains both our laughter and our logic, our fear of the dead and our knowledge that is somehow good to die, and which at one stroke covers what multitudes of separate theories will hardly cover for us if this is rejected." I am so thankful for that, because I came to see that my life - what I do, what I believe, what I desire - must constantly be evaluated by the standard of Christ's becoming flesh. In many ways, it is this that convinced me that whatever Christian believing is, it must not be on my own terms. I cannot negotiate it. I cannot have it my way. How freeing this is!
What I am saying is this: in this time in which so much has become personalized, even meaning itself, we need the witness of this Epiphany season. We need God to show himself to us, to show himself to us in Jesus, and thereby to be granted a vision, not only of who God is, but of who we truly are.
As we conclude this Christmas Season, a very merry Christmas to all of you! And as we begin Epiphany, I pray that all of us will be granted the joy of knowing Jesus more fully, and knowing him, be granted the joy of becoming His Saints!