Archives For Incarnation

Christmas is Here

December 24, 2013 — Leave a comment

Advent days 23-24: God is present

Merry Christmas1

Image: Created with Picmonkey

Walking past our computer last night I saw my daughter working away at something. I walked closer and discovered her designing a nativity scene using the standard “paint” software found on most computers.


Image: ‘Nativity’ AGL2013

The artwork was of her own making, straight from her heart utilising gifts and developing skills we are yet to teach her.

It reminded me that the advent season is a journey that involves both movement and anticipation. Lesson and learning.

God teaches us because He loves us. He chooses to reaches out to us because He wants to be near us.

The march from the advent-outhouse to Golgotha is sign-posted by the Christ mass (for Catholics); the Christ Passion (for Protestants). The Christ march is for our celebration. Such a celebration is to be ‘marked by the forgiveness of sins and the cry of joy that Jesus is the Victor!’[i] Christ is at once ‘God’s judgement and God’s compassion’ (Dickson & Clarke, 2007:116).

It is not about marking an eve of devastation, but the eve of destruction and subsequent restoration, whereby God takes His rightful place in our lives. Today is a day when all earthly authority which stands as its own supreme authority is put on notice. A time when they are reminded that what little authority they have is borrowed, if not, only delegated to them.

Such a theology is not about empty, deluded triumphalism. Rather it is about understanding that because of the living God, the world is living in the light of Jesus the Christ. Creation groans, we are told, and is experiencing in ever greater events the dawn of His physical return. The Holy Spirit seeks to reconcile you and me, the time of grace is now, present.

Karl Barth wrote:

The ‘Christian message is an historical truth…not one truth among others; it is the truth. In thinking of God, we have from the beginning to think of the name of Jesus Christ, the unity of God and man, by being an historical truth which became real at that time and place, is no transitory truth…To pronounce the name of Jesus Christ means to acknowledge that we are cared for, that we are not lost.
God is not an ideological imaginary friend. If we look at the covenant which God has really concluded with humanity, then we know that it is not so. God on high is really near to us in the depths. God is present.’[ii]

I agree with Barth when he says that ‘to celebrate Christmas is to see salvation’[iii].

This act relates to us the truth as it penetrates all kinds of un-forgiveness, absent apology, broken recollection and insecure reflection.

Right here, at this time of year we are confronted in Jesus Christ by the God of the exodus who still ‘has a future for His creation. That this future is somehow intrinsically related to the mission of Christ and the intention of God in raising him from the dead’(Moltmann)[iv]


It is Christmas eve. The summer heat over the past three days is breaking as a cool southern wind brings clouds and cooler days. The sky although grey, is full of promise. Today’s post will mark my 200th contribution to theo-blogosphere. I write in order to express a ‘faith which seeks understanding’ (Anselm of Cantebury). My conversation partners on this journey are people who held, and hold on to such an understanding.The Living God invites us to this conversation. I hope, at least, my attempts in responding have been far more than just a “dinner and a show”.

Whether you be a weary traveller or an energetic pilgrim, I thank you for reading my ramblings this far.

Jesus is Victor!


[i] Barth, K. 1933 the Epistle to the Romans Oxford University Press, London , p.312
[ii] Barth, K.1947 Dogmatics in Outline SCM Classics pp.60-62
[iii] Barth, K. Sermons
[iv] Moltmann, J 1965 Theology of Hope SCM Press,  p.180

Advent days 20-22:

Leathen Comradeinwhite_ChristWW1

Christmas Day 1915.

‘By Christmas there was a widespread popular sense for a thoroughgoing reconciliation in no-man’s land. What had happened at Christmas in 1914 was the needful precedent. It was a sort of playful legend in the army. On Christmas Day there would be a going over and a shaking of hands and exchange of souvenirs and drinks. Both sides looked forward to it.

But the authorities evidently thought it dangerous. Orders to the effect that there should be no fraternisation were sent out, and a staff-officer here and there spent Christmas Eve in the trenches to see that the orders were carried out. He could not however effect very much…At dawn therefore parties went over, and whole battalions might have followed them had not the artillery at once set up a barrage. It was found also that sentries on both sides had been ordered to fire. Some obeyed, some did not. Meanwhile the troops about Neuve Chapelle and Aubers got across in large bodies. Even on the Guards’ front men risked their lives to shake hands. Did not one thus lose his life that morning!

There is a little old cemetery by the side of the road a mile or so from Laventie, and there lie prominently side by side two corporals of the Sixth Black Watch (Newell and Willis) and behind their graves is that of a certain Sergeant Oliver[i] who perished on Christmas Day…On all graves are weeds except on that of the man who gave his life to shake hands on Christmas Day’[ii].

There are some parallels here that meet with the Christ story. For instance light dawns on a dark day and is quickly extinguished.


Source: Paul Fussell 1974:138 Oxford Uni Press, Schweizer illustriete Zeitung; The “Comrade in White”.

Similar to the authorities attempts to extinguish Jesus, soldiers on both sides of the trenches in World War One rose to match hope with peace, and experienced attempts by earthly authorities to extinguish their efforts.

They rose out of the trenches in spite of direct opposition and gifted us with a bewildering example of faith, courage and humanity.

We are told by Matthew that Joseph is warned in a dream about the possible act of infanticide. Carried out by a ruler who, after speaking with ‘wise men from the East’, feared the possibility of prophetic fulfilment. Fearing that a boy in Bethlehem ‘had been born’ (Mt.2:2, ESV) and that He would be a challenge to Herod’s authority. In a violent act of suppression, Herod, like Pilot not only becomes a key historical character, his actions also indicate how serious the socio-political nature of the event was perceived. The point is that the prophetic fulfilment was so intensely anticipated, that a ruler would eventually go to great lengths in order to undermine and eliminate a child:

“Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” (Mt.2:13, ESV)

In 1945 C.S Lewis, himself a World War One survivor,  preached these words:

Christ has risen, and so we shall rise[iii]… To be sure, it feels wintry enough still: but often in the very early spring it feels like that…The spring comes slowly down this way; but the great thing is that a corner has been turned…It remains for us to follow or not, to die in this cosmic winter, or to go into that spring and that summer… I believe that God really has dived down into the bottom of creation, and has come up bringing the whole redeemed nature on His shoulders.’[iv]

The difference between the soldiers in those trenches and Jesus Christ, is that in Him, God reaches out to us for more than just a moment of peace.

God’s eternal handshake with humanity is the gift given in the incarnation of His son Jesus the Christ. The effort he made marks the landscape of Christmas.

In Jesus Christ  God reveals Himself as God for us; His Word become flesh.

This event is the advent. That God became man and dwelt among us, is present with us in the Holy Spirit, and will be physically present with us at a future time determined by God.

He seeks a dwelling place with humanity. We read that:

“He will dwell with them, they will be his people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away…I am making all things new” (Rev.21:3-4).

Resurrection is God’s doing, God’s empowering. In reflections during advent we discover that rise, rising, and being risen are key theological concepts within a holistic advent reflection. In what theologians call Christology, we encounter the anticipation of the future-event based on the past-event. Christ becomes the fulfilment of promise. The end is established in order to begin. Since resurrection is a gospel proclamation of liberation, the word rise is a  theme not to be isolated or boxed into Easter reflections alone.

May the events of Christmas 1914 & 1915 be a strong reminder to us that even in the grip of tragedy; wisdom, reconciliation, mercy and justice are themes with deep roots in the significance of the Christ-mass – traces of the Saviour’s influence.

May they not be forgotten.


[i] Fussel, P. 1974 The Great War and Modern Memory Oxford University Press, p.309
[ii] Graham, S. 1921 The Challenge of the Dead Cassell and Company, Ltd London sourced 22nd December 2013 from
[iii] 1 Cor. 15:20
[iv] Lewis, C.S, 27 April 1945 Sermon: The Grand Miracle in Lewis, C.S. 2000 Essay Collection HarperCollins Publishers, p.9


Advent Day 3: Waiting


The documented events pre and post-birth of Jesus the Christ are about expectancy. This is on display in Luke and Matthew’s historical record of Joseph, Mary, Zechariah, Elizabeth, John, Herod, no vacant inns, Roman administrative customs, Shepherds, Wise-men, Angels, and a postnatal flight to Egypt (Mt.2:13).

A concept of waiting has a big part to play in the Advent tradition. However, this focus on “waiting” can hide from us the tremendous amount of movement found within both texts.Particularly the  activity of the Holy Spirit. This is primarily because of a thematic over emphasis on ”waiting” found in some (not all) advent reflections.

It is summer in the Southern Hemisphere. The traditional ideas of Advent which consider it a time of waiting seem out of sync, almost abstract. For example: there is more movement here because of the warmer days.

Having said this,  the summer also enhances our chances of appreciating the themes of waiting and anticipation. This is because of the anticipation of cooler temperatures which arise when clouds announce potential storms.

New Testament scholar, Joel Green, considers Luke’s record of the geographical and geo-political to be unique markers of significance; features, among others, that ‘contribute to the dramatic movement of the Advent story and to the sense of perpetual motion within the story‘ (1997:50)[i].

Perpetual motion is considered impossible in practice. So it is a term, that properly understood and applied in a theological context, helps to identify the paradox, the potential and the actual participation of God and those He called. There, heartfelt tensions must have shifted between an overwhelming mix of bewilderment with doubt, and the knowledge that these strange events was God fulfilling His promise. People whose feet appear to us covered in dust, as they embarked on a wild and nervous journey, became not only participants of the impossible, but also witnesses of that which has become possible.

As we enter a season that places more demands on our time and creativity, Advent should call to us to a remembrance of God’s freedom and invitation to relationship. In Jesus the Christ, son of Mary, step-son of Joseph we encounter Him as fully human, fully God. On the cross and outside the empty tomb, we encounter Him as Saviour.

Yet, before a manger, straw and the scent of farm animals we encounter Him as a baby, in a strange event that implies God became vulnerable and dependent for our sake. Displaying the length to which the Creator chose to go in order to rescue His Creation. As Karl Barth stated: ‘Jesus is not an idea. He is a person. It is the truth of the real the reality of the true which here enters the field: ‘God speaks. God acts. God is in the midst’ (CD. Outline 1949:58)

Hildegard of Bingen [ii] said, that by the Spirit we are:

‘awakened, called by the resounding melody; God’s invocation of the word’.

Like a fire pouring forth from God’s heart, bursting through our despair and obliterating it (1 Jn.5). Almost every reminder of this birth narrative brings with it a light that pierces the darkened areas of our lives (Jn.5:35).

For: ‘in His light we see light and in this light our darkness’ (Ps.36:9) [iii].

Over the next 8 weeks most Australians will slow down.

Schools will begin a 5 week summer break. Shops will trade until Christmas eve, opening Boxing Day, coming to life with fanfare, discounts and line-ups. Human activity is likely to distract from the meaning and purpose before us.

However, it doesn’t have to. Advent is a journey about embracing ‘the dramatic movement of the Advent story by, marking the event where the impossible became possible’ (1997:50). Any understanding of waiting as a kind of static stillness cannot be drawn from the texts. There is waiting, but there is also movement. Like Mary and Joseph who did their best to ”trust God without borders” (United, Oceans), we ‘look and march towards God’s appearing and revelation, the world’s redemption and God’s fulfilment of His promise in Advent’ [iv].

‘We are the object of divine compassion[v]


[i]  Green, J.B 1997 NICNT: The Gospel of Luke Wm.B Eerdmans Publishing US/UK
[ii] Hildegard of Bingen Selected writings, Penguin Books (London 2001) Kindle for PC Ed.
[iii] Barth, K 1949 CD Outline, pp.62 & 75
[iv] Barth, K. Church Dogmatics IV:3, Henderickson Publishers p.322 & CD Outline, 1949:62 & 75
[v] Barth, K 1949 CD Outline, pp.62 & 75

(I was introduced to the song ‘Oceans’ by the Blog, Found. The lyrics seemed fitting.)


Word of God Speak

September 17, 2013 — 2 Comments

In their 2002 album ‘Spoken for’, MercyMe featured a song called ‘Word of God Speak’.

The words:

I’m finding myself at a loss for words
And the funny thing is it’s okay
The last thing I need is to be heard
But to hear what You would say

Word of God speak
Would You pour down like rain
Washing my eyes to see
Your majesty
To be still and know
That You’re in this place
Please let me stay and rest
In Your holiness
Word of God speak

I’m finding myself in the midst of You
Beyond the music, beyond the noise

All that I need is to be with You
And in the quiet hear Your voice

Reading through some material today, it occurred to me that when it comes to the Word of God: we either choose to hear what is freely spoken to us or we don’t.  This does not change the fact that God has spoken and continues to speak through His Word to us and for us in fresh and new ways.

The Word of God does not change, but instead initiates change – (James.1:16-18).

He does this by inviting us to see beyond the stagnated idolatry of human opinion – the kind that permeates religious and ideological “towers of Babylon”. Basically, when we place our ideology before our theology both fall into a trap. We enslave ourselves to a point of reference found in human words not in God’s. For example here one would agree with Paul’s assessment: ‘for now we see in a mirror dimly…Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known’ (1. Cor.13:12) .

God not only points us towards redeemed reason, He chooses to give it to us in His Word.Consequently we are moved from the ‘the light of nature into the light of Grace’ (Barth, 1936:155) [1].

Therefore we must listen to this Divine Word as proclamation, Scripture and revelation[2]. The Incarnate Christ who is ‘God-with-us ’ issued as a Divine act by the ‘God-in-Himself’ (Barth 1936:172), who chooses to move ‘towards humanity’ (1936:172) empowering us to go beyond the fog of ‘fallen reason’ (1936:166).  To go ‘’beyond the noise’’ (MercyMe). To see beyond certain ideologies and their poisonous progenies. The kind that misuse hope by employing it as a veil in order to hide stagnating dysfunctional paradigms [3].

Barth assures us that:

To speak of the ‘Word of God is to speak of God in His relation to Humanity. i.e: decision – divine act (157). Jesus the Christ, who speaks for Himself and needs no witness apart from His Holy Spirit and the faith that rejoices in His promise received and grasped. A promise heard as the revealed Word of God, fulfilment of what is written, recalled and then proclaimed (sermon and sacrament)’ (1936:55, 120,121 & 124).

Accordingly, the outcomes of our hearing will be grounded in whether we have ‘heard correctly or incorrectly’ (CD1.1:133).

Barth then states that ‘God’s Word means that “God speaks” (Deus dixit)…there is no Word of God without physical act and God’s speak is God’s act ‘ (Barth CD 1.1:133)…’this is a rational not an irrational event’ (1936:135)…‘We must know God as the one who addresses us in freedom’ (1936:172)…this ‘Lord of speech is also the Lord of hearing. The Lord who gives the Word and also gives faith’ (1936:182), this in turn means that God opens Himself up to the possibility of rejection since ‘a personal gift implies the possibility of its refusal’ (CD.1.1:98)

It is then right to understand that the “God who speaks” also expects and eagerly awaits our reply.

‘For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two edged sword…piercing and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart’ (Hebrews 4:12-13, ESV)

Barth’s key dialogue partner throughout his CD 1.1 discourse so far has been Martin Luther, who he cites (1936:135) as saying that ‘Christ’s Kingdom is a kingdom of hearing, not a Kingdom of seeing’ (Luther 1545, W.A. 51:11, I.25).

In agreement Barth clarifies what Luther meant stating that ‘it is faith that hears, understands and obeys God’s speech’ (1936:135).In other words ‘we can only take up an attitude by repeating it as we think we have heard it and by trying to conform to it as well or badly as we can (CD.1.1:90)

The conclusion:

MercyMe are right, not just in the sense that we are spoken for, but because we are also spoken to.

As Barth so brilliantly put it: ‘the Word of God is God’s claim on Humanity’…therefore ‘no matter what may be said about me, I exist in correspondence to God’s Word’ (1936:161).

Barth can say this because he stands in light of the understanding that we are listeners before ‘the speaking God who spoke then, and speaks now. It is in Jesus Christ that we understand the Word of God as the epitome of God’s grace. This grace means simply that as humans we are no longer left to ourselves but are given into the Hand of God’’ (1936:149-150)

Thus Barth profoundly asserts:

‘God did not need to speak to us…we evaluate this free and actualised gracious Word [purpose]correctly only if we understand it as the reality of the love of the God who does not need us but who does not will to be without us’ (Barth, 1936:140, italics mine)

After highlighting the danger of putting our ideology before our theology. After establishing the how and who of God’s Word the question that remains for us is:

What is it that I hear and have I heard it correctly?

The answer may surprise you.


Barth, K 1936 Church Dogmatics Volume 1.1 The Doctrine of the Word of God Hendrickson Publishers Peabody Massachusetts

[1] This might otherwise be called ”a higher purpose”, although I am cautious of committing to this as a way of explaining what I mean by redeemed reason, as it has an attachment to the “oh he/she got religion” pejorative promoted by  popular culture.
[2] ‘God’s revelation is Jesus Christ, the Son of God’ (1936:137)
[3] This is a concept I am working through and one I explained in brief here.

God’s got this…

Just keep breathing.

The palms of his hand may be nail scarred but they are outstretched, strong and reliable.

Those holes are Holy, his hands a living reminder of His commitment to life, to you and to me.

God has got this…

‘Fear not … stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks’ (Lk.12:32, 35-36, ESV)

God. has. got. this…


‘He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.Surely he has borne our grief and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all’. (Is.53:3-6 ESV)


T.F Torrance wrote that ‘sinful existence is a will to isolation from God and a refusal of His grace’ (‘Incarnation’ 2008, pg 52).Within this statement we can see an idea that is stimulated by Paul in Romans 5:12-21. This is that humanity is plagued by an uncertain primal aversion to God brought on by a distortion in humanities relationship with God. This theme of primal-atheism has in impact on how the world deals with the depth and relevance of Easter. Easter disturbs us because it reminds us that our ‘elevation into union and communion with God exists because of the humiliation of Christ the Son’ (‘Incarnation’ 2008, pg 57). It does not exist because of any human effort to prove ourselves right before God.

This can be connected to something Paul writes about in Romans 5:12-21. ImageHere he points to a counter disturbance whereby ‘grace does not leave humans unaffected in their consciousness and behaviour’ (Schreiner ‘Romans’ 1998, p.292; Moltmann‘The Spirit of Life’ 1992, p.113). This provides the framework for understanding how the ‘grace of Christ conquers and subdues’ (Schreiner 1998, p.285) sin and death. The Christ-event is an act of interceding grace (Rm.5:20) from which God fulfils His promise (Rm.8:26) and brings life out of death (Rm.4:17); light out of darkness. This counter disturbance summons every human to a response of gratitude (Barth) for what has been done on our behalf. This dynamic invitation ruffles our feathers as the tradition of the Church, along with the Spirit of God calls us to remember that in Christ humanity is found, rescued and offered new Life.

ImageBarth asserts this when he states that ‘the theme of the Gospel is the death of death’ (R2 1933, p.166). His emphasis here fits the literary context of Rm.5:12-21 because it points to Paul’s main theological point in Romans. This is that in Christ, God calls humanity into a newness of life. This means that in Jesus the Christ, God wills human existence (Barth C.D IV/III.1 p.362). In order to actualise this God addresses our unrighteous, ‘bleak, lifeless and unrelated existence’ (Barth 1933, p.170).Consequently righteousness becomes connected to life because ‘the victory over sin…rests in the entire accomplishment of the course of Christ’s existence’ (Pannenberg ‘Jesus-God and Man 1968, p.362). In other words Christ’s existence becomes our existence. For the biannual pilgrims of Christmas and Easter these words are a reminder that God not only gives permission for them to breathe, but that God also empowers them to do so.

Paul’s letter to the Church in Rome is about a ‘restoration that is outside our competence’(Barth ‘R2’ 1933, p.168). The good news of Romans 5:12-21 is that through Christ, God recalls us to a life transformed. He takes the initiative and through his act of reconciliation ‘invades the being of man and woman, making them his saints’ (Barth C.D IV/II 1958, p.523).This is a remedy established by the free gift of grace, which is given through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Despite primal-atheism, a product of a distorted relationship God does not desire to be without humanity (Barth). Consequently humanity is delivered from the abyss (Barth 1933, p.240) bringing us to a point where we can joyfully say ‘’I know who did it’’.


Artistic process: I put together a display and photographed it at different angles. I then choose three to four of the best and used instagram to frame them. I put the collage together with the standard photo editor for windows 7. The hand print was done by using a print out, a glove and red food dye. (2013)


A narrative sermon: Jn.20:24-29

I remain clear about the reality.light concept_editedMarch013

Some people say He deserved it, others eager for gain, simply aligned themselves with the lies. As the old saying goes, ‘’misery loves company’’ I guess.

Perhaps it was fear of disloyalty, the mob or fear of the unfettered power claimed by corrupt and cynical people. The same people who made judgements without allowing them to be questioned.

Perhaps it was fear

Being shamed as a supporter?


Some of us remained. Alone, together enduring the subtle put downs, the lies whispered in the dark behind our backs. You know the types, lies that circulate like chains of smoke around the necks of accusers and prosecutors alike. Enduring the fallout, retracing our steps, persevering, it is like being knee deep in the mud. Has it really been 8 days already?How can one group of people have so much influence, so much control and, how come so many are uncritically willing to point a finger?

Who can stand against the deviancy control techniques they employed to engineer a biased response.

*sigh*….I’m exhausted.
How infuriating this all is!

Still I remain clear about the reality.

What I saw is what I saw – there is no bias in telling the truth even when it is discounted as subjective babble.

Me, recondite?

*sigh*…perhaps, I am.

Still I remain clear about the reality.

What I felt is what I felt – there is no contradiction in the embedded data here, even though my thoughts and experiences are ridiculed as ambiguous, damned to be without meaning, tasked to be silenced forever.

Still I remain clear about the reality.

What I heard is what I heard – there is no delusion, even when it is covered in a milieu of emotive fog. For me this is more than a memory, although it is conveniently forgotten by the elite and too easily abandoned by those who blindly followed.

Still…I remain clear about the reality.

The days darkened, hope vanished because the words were deconstructed, meaning lost meaning, the truth was reversed and those words twisted by the process of cross-examination – our faith all but abandoned.

Belittled, embattled, bitter and cold we sat. The others knew my opinions. Understanding the past was not going to be easy. Sin appears to have been rewarded. Isn’t this the opposite of what we were told to expect?

I need to confess..*sigh*… I no longer remain clear about the reality. I need air…this is all too much.

Disorientated by the distortions that surround me it seems I am burdened with the task of speaking reason to my unreasonable friends. Love speaks truth, and I must speak even if it costs me. Ah, the depth of grief that engulfs them! It’s not that their optimism is foreign to me; after all we walked among the dead, we saw them return alive to their loved ones! I still rejoice about the time I witnessed a grateful father ask for help in his unbelief following his daughters impossible healing. But now that experience taunts me, I thought I was one of the strong ones, convinced beyond all question by what I had seen, felt and heard. I rose and turned towards the door, angry, disappointed and determined for this to be a final stand for reason. How could I convince them? They seem so certain…

I am especially aware of this moment of hesitation – because I heard that unmistakable voice. My heart beat faster and the anxiety  that had overwhelmed me waned . With distinct clarity I sensed a return of that deep joy which always beamed from that transcendent-imminence full of understanding and compassion.

This too easily forgotten energising-joy was almost always accompanied by bespoke words full of warmth and light. Then suddenly there they were… ‘’Thomas! see?…these scars…touch them, for a Spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have…blessed are those who have not seen me yet have believed’

With a gust of contrition I looked up, and in breathless, staccato sounds I uttered the words…’My Lord and my God!’

Keep Calm_redefined_RodLampardMills_2013