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Christmas means that God takes His own medicine

Why did God make us so liable to fail and to deserve punishment?

If God knew we would sin and incur his wrath, why did he create us in the first place? 

Nowhere does he say, and no explanation does he owe. 

What Scripture does say is that God thought it fitting that he personally experience the deep distress to which he had subjected us all. 

This is vital to understanding the meaning of Christmas. 

The Book of Hebrews in the New Testament speaks in the following way of God sending his Son into the world, “For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.”

Again it says, “Sacrifices and offering you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me.”

The English novelist Dorothy L. Sayers has written, “For whatever reason God chose to make man as he is—limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death—he had the honesty and courage to take his own medicine.” 

Christians believe that God became fully human in the miraculous conception and birth of Jesus Christ and subject to all of our limitations. 

According to Sayers, “He [God] can exact nothing of man that he has not exacted from himself.”

“He has gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair, and death.”

“Whatever game he is playing with creation, he has kept his own rules and plays fair.” 

God, in the person of Jesus, subjects himself to life in a fallen world not so that he might gain knowledge of us, but that we might gain knowledge of who he is and of the extent of his love for all of us who are weak and liable to fail.  

He is a singularly unique God indeed who keeps his own rules and accepts his own consequences, not for any sins of his own, but solely for the sins of others.

Sayers writes that the Egyptian god Osiris supposedly died and rose again and that the Greek poet Aeschylus theorized about a suffering Zeus, but these gods are said to have suffered in some mythical period of pre-history. 

In contrast, the Gospel narratives are anchored in history, in real space and time.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem during the reign of Caesar Augustus and in the days of Herod the King, who sought to kill Jesus while yet a child.   

Some thirty years later Jesus was sentenced to death on a hill outside Jerusalem by the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate, who crucified him. 

God did this because sinners like ourselves can never ascend to God.    

This is why God, in his mercy, descends to us--in the womb of the Virgin Mary, in the manger, in death and the grave, and even today in the Holy Supper of Christ’s body and blood.

At Christmas, God comes down and binds himself to his creation, becoming one with us, so that we might become one with God. 

In the person of Jesus, God not only becomes flesh and blood; he becomes guilty flesh and blood, taking humanity’s sin into himself, and taking his own medicine by dying in our place. 

Christ is born to suffer the death we had earned and which he had imposed on us, that we might know the full measure of his love for us all.

 

Myths about the Reformation

As this year(2017) marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, let’s address some common myths associated with it.

Myth: "Luther neither desired nor chose to leave the Roman church."

He was excommunicated by the church and placed under the sentence of death by the Holy Roman Emperor because he refused to violate his conscience and deny the truth of his writings.

Luther was a reluctant reformer who had no intention of starting another church.

He advocated dialogue concerning abuses in the church, and for the rest of his life he called for a council of the church to address questions of theology and practice, to no avail.

He became a reformer because he was a pastor who was concerned about the spiritual well-being of his flock. Today, many Roman Catholic leaders such as Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Pope Francis speak highly of Luther.  Germany’s Catholic bishops have praised Luther as “a Gospel witness and teacher of the faith.”

Myth:"The Reformation destroyed the unity of the Church."

Actually, the unity of Christendom was shattered hundreds of years before Luther.

The Great Schism, also known as the East-West Schism, was the event that divided Western (Roman) Christianity from Eastern Orthodoxy.

This break was formalized in AD 1054, when Pope Leo IX of Rome and Patriarch Michael of Constantinople excommunicated each other, but both churches had been estranged long before then over issues such as papal authority.    

For several centuries, the pope had claimed supremacy over all other bishops, including those of eastern Christendom.  

Not surprisingly, bishops in the East disagreed, and the rift was never healed.   

Philip Melanchthon, a close associate of Luther, wrote that one might accept the pope as head of all Christendom by human arrangement rather than divine right, if only the pope allowed the preaching of the pure Gospel, that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. 

Myth:"The Reformers abandoned tradition and the teachings of the early church fathers."

On the contrary, Luther and Lutheran theologians relied heavily on the writings of church fathers such as Jerome, Ambrose and Augustine to argue that the Gospel taught in Lutheran churches was no innovation. 

In contrast with the more radical reformers Zwingli and Calvin, Luther’s reforms were conservative in nature, preserving rites and traditions of the church that did not conflict with the Gospel. 

Myth:"Luther used drinking (tavern) songs in church."

This is an oft-repeated statement by those wanting to validate the use of secular, pop-music in worship. 

They argue that if the great reformer found value in contemporary music, shouldn’t we have church services today featuring rap, heavy metal, reggae, techno, etc.?   

In fact, only one of Luther’s hymns (“From Heaven Above to Earth I Come”) was originally paired with a secular love ballad, but due to the tune’s association with non-sacred activity, it wasn’t long before Luther wrote his own tune for the hymn, which replaced the love ballad and became the standard tune which we sing today.  

Apparently, Luther has second-thoughts about pairing his hymn with a secular love song. 

Another myth is the so-called Luther quote, "Why should the devil have all the good tunes?"

The problem is that scholars find no evidence of the quote anywhere in Luther’s writings.

Rest assured, however, that the devil does not have all the good tunes.

Luther believed the music of the church should proclaim Christ’s saving work with tunes that can be easily sung by the congregation and are free of overt, secular associations that could overshadow the Gospel message.

Myths surrounding the Protestant Reformation are easily dismissed by keeping the following in mind:  it was all about Jesus Christ and the centrality of his saving work in the life of the church and in the life of every member. 

Whatever obscured Christ, whatever undermined confidence in his saving death and resurrection, the reformers abandoned. 

Whatever proclaimed Christ and created faith in him, the reformers gladly retained.

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