Monthly Archives: December 2011

“Brought for us low”: Christina Rossetti’s Christmas Eve


Merry Christmas to you all!

A dear friend of our family, Ms. Amy Wolek, shared this Christina Rossetti poem with me last night, and I knew instantly it was destined for today’s post.  I hope you enjoy it!

Christmas Eve

Christmas hath a darkness

Brighter than the blazing noon,

Christmas hath a chilliness

Warmer than the heat of June,

Christmas hath a beauty

Lovelier than the world can show:

For Christmas bringeth Jesus,

Brought for us low.


Earth strike up your music,

Birds that sing and bells that ring;

Heaven hath answring music

For all Angels soon to sing:

Earth, put on your whitest

Bridal robe of spotless snow:

For Christmas bringeth Jesus

Brought for us low.


“Christmas Eve”  Christina Rossetti

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Advent Reflection #27: Jesus Christ is no Clark Kent




Jesus Christ was (and is!) God incarnate.  He was (and is!) fully God.  He was (and is!) fully man.  To properly honor Scripture’s teaching, we must reject anything tending toward or smacking of a functional “Clark Kent” understanding of the Incarnation.  You know Clark.  He’s the seemingly ordinary earthling who in fact was on a long term loan from the planet Krypton.  He looked like a human to other humans, but he wasn’t really a human.  When a bus, machine gun bullet, or spike strikes a real human, it leaves a mark, and the human bleeds.  As Superman’s earthbound camouflage, Clark Kent couldn’t be injured by the things on earth, and never bled.  He wasn’t a real human being, after all.


Not so, Jesus of Nazareth.  Jesus was a real man.  We can go still further:  He was the most real man who ever lived, the most fully human of all human beings.  He entered the world the same way each of us does:  He was born.  He could feel, as we feel.  He could be injured, as we can be injured.  He could bleed, as we bleed.  And because He did, we will live in resurrection power, even as He does.  He was and is no Clark Kent.


C.S. Lewis makes the same point (much better!) below:


“God could, had He pleased, have been incarnate in a man of iron nerves, the Stoic sort who lets no sigh escape him.  Of His great humility He chose to be incarnate in a man of delicate sensibilities who wept at the grave of Lazarus and sweated blood in Gethsemane.  Otherwise we should have missed the great lesson that it is by his will aloe that a man is good or bad, and that feelings are not, in themselves, of any importance.  We should also have missed the all-important help of knowing that He has faced all that the weakest of us face, has shared not only the strength of our nature but every weakness of it except sin.  If He had been incarnate in a man of immense natural courage, that would have been for many of us almost the same as His not being incarnate at all.”

C.S. Lewis (in a letter, October 1947)

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Advent Reflection #26: Luci Shaw’s “Descent”


Down he came from up,

and in from out,

and here from there.

A long leap,

an incandescent fall

from magnificent

to naked, frail, small,

through space,

between stars,

into our chill night air,

shrunk, in infant grace,

to our damp, cramped

earthy place

among all

the shivering sheep.

And now, after all,

there he lies,

fast asleep.

Luci Shaw, Accompanied by Angels:  Poems of the Incarnation

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Advent Reflection #25: C.S. Lewis, Pagan ‘Christs’ & Christ Himself

I’ve been thinking about Matthew’s account of the wise men (or “magi” depending on your translation) who arrive in Jerusalem to worship the one “who has been born king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2).  The following insights from C.S. Lewis have been helpful to me.  I hope they will be to you as well….

“Theology, while saying that a special illumination has been vouchsafed to Christians and (earlier) to Jews, also says that there is some divine illumination vouchsafed to all men.  The Divine Light, we are told, ‘lighteneth every man’ [John 1:9].  We should, therefore, expect to find in the imagination of great Pagan teachers and myth-makers some glimpse of that theme which we believe to be the very plot of the whole cosmic story–the theme of incarnation, death, and rebirth.  And the differences between the Pagan Christs (Balder, Osiris, etc.) and the Christ Himself are much what we should expect to find.

“The Pagan stories are all about someone dying and rising, either every year, or else nobody knows where and nobody knows when.  The Christian story is about a historical personage, whose execution can be dated pretty accurately, under a named Roman magistrate, and with whom the society that He founded is in a continuous relation down to the present day.  It is the not the difference between falsehood and truth.  It is the difference between a real event on the one hand and dim dreams or premonitions of that same event on the other.  It is like watching something come gradually into focus; first it hangs in the clouds of myth and ritual, vast and vague, then it condenses, grows hard and in a sense small, as a historical event in first-century Palestine.”

C.S. Lewis, Is Theology Poetry?

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Advent Reflection #24: Friends

This reflection is about recognizing and being grateful for the gift of friendship during Advent.  I have two particular friends in mind tonight:  Robert Krahn & Jeremy Robins.  The picture above was taken on Indian Rock in Berkeley, where Robert & Jeremy joined our family for a few days on vacation during the summer of 2010.

We met Jeremy & Robert during their undergraduate days at Stetson University, and have continued to be blessed by their friendship even after their graduation.   Their presence has enriched our church as well as the lives of every single member of our family in countless ways for many years now.  We thank God for these men and brothers.  Our own kids have dubbed them “the Bruncles” (a hybrid of ‘brother’ & ‘uncle’); I just call them “Ro” & “J”.

This afternoon, we observed our  annual Disneyworld gingerbread house viewing with Ro & J, followed by a great dinner at the Winter Garden Pizza Company and more ice cream than any responsible, right-thinking individual should have eaten at Twistee Treat.

Who are you thankful for this evening?  Be sure to tell them.

Here’s to you, Ro & J.  You guys are greatly loved!

p.s.  The following picture was taken at Half Dome in Yosemite, which the 3 of us climbed together, also in the summer of 2010

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Advent Reflection #23: The Mission(s) of the Incarnation

The following is a list (which I’m sure some of you will help me to see is incomplete!) I’ve compiled of New Testament texts describing the mission or the purpose of the Incarnation.  As you’ll see, most of these texts are framed in terms of an explanation as to some aspect of why Jesus  has come, or why He was sent.  Some of them are surprising; all of them are worthy of reflection and meditation.  My prayer is that their breadth will broaden your own worship as Christmas Day approaches!

Here they are….

Matthew 5:17.  Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.

Mark 10:45.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.

Luke 5:32.  I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.

Luke 19:10.  For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.

John 3:16.  For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

John 3:17.  For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.

John 6:38-39.  For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.  This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.

John 9:39.   And Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.”

John 10:10.  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

John 12:27—28.  Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour.  28 Father, glorify Your name.” Then a voice came out of heaven: “I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.”

John 12:46.  I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness.

John 18:37.  Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”

Galatians 4:4—5.   4 But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, 5 so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.

1 Timothy 1:15. It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.

Hebrews 9:26.  Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.

1 John 3:5. You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin.

1 John 3:8. the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.

1 John 4:9—10.  By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.  10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

1 John 4:14.  We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.


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Advent Reflection #22: John Owen on the Glory of Christ in the Incarnation

My heart was helped this morning–all the way from the 17th century–by John Owen’s meditation on the glory of Christ in the Incarnation.  I hope and pray yours will be as well.  The following excerpt is taken from Chapter 4 of Owen’s work, The Glory of Christ.  

“But had we the tongue of men and angels, we were not able in any just measure to express the glory of this condescension [i.e. the Incarnation]; for it is the most ineffable effect of the divine wisdom of the Father and of the love of the Son–the highest evidence of the care of God toward mankind.  What can be equal unto it?  What can be like it?  It is the glory of the Christian religion, and the animating soul of all evangelical truth.  This carrieth the mystery of the wisdom of God above the reason or understanding of men and angels, to be the object of faith and admiration only.  A mystery it is that becomes the greatness of God…

” …He who was eternally in the form of God–that is, essentially so, God by nature, equally participant of the same divine nature with God the Father; “God over all, blessed for ever;” who humbleth Himself to behold the things that are in heaven and earth–He takes on Him the nature of man, takes it to be His own, whereby He was no less truly a man in time than He was truly God from eternity.  And to increase the wonder of this mystery, because it was necessary unto the end He designed, so humbled Himself in this assumption of our nature, as to make Himself of no reputation in this world; –yea, unto that degree, that He said of Himself that He was a worm, and no man, in comparison of them who were of any esteem.

We speak of these things in a poor, low, broken manner,–we teach them as they are revealed in the Scripture,–we labour by faith to adhere unto them as revealed; but when we come into a steady, direct view and consideration of the thing itself, our minds fail, our hearts tremble, and we can find no rest but in a holy admiration of what we cannot comprehend.  Here we are at a loss, and know that we shall be so whilst we are in this world; but all the ineffable fruits and benefits of this truth are communicated unto them that do believe.  

” …He is herein a sanctuary, an assured refuge unto all that betake themselves unto Him.  What is it that any man in distress, who flies thereunto, may look for in a sanctuary?  A supply of his wants, a deliverance from all his fears, a defence against all his dangers, is proposed unto him therein.  Such is the Lord Christ herein unto all sin-distressed souls; He is a refuge unto us in all spiritual distresses and disconsolations (Hebrews 6:18)….Are we, or any of us, burdened with a sense of sin?  Are we perplexed with temptations?  Are bowed down under the oppression of any spiritual adversary?  Do we, on any of these accounts, ‘walk in darkness and have no light’ [Isaiah 50:10]?  One view of the glory of Christ herein [i.e. in the Incarnation] is able to support us and relieve us.

“Unto whom we betake ourselves for relief in any case, we have regard to nothing but their will and power.  If they have both, we are sure of relief.  And what shall we fear in the will of Christ as unto this end?  What will He not do for us?  He who thus emptied and humbled Himself, who so infinitely condescended from the prerogative of His glory in His being and self-sufficiency, in the [assumption] of our nature for the discharge of the office of a mediator on our behalf,–will He not relieve us in all our distresses?  Will He not do all for us we stand in need of, that we may be eternally saved?  Will He not be a sanctuary unto us?  Nor have we hereon any ground to fear His power; for, by this infinite condescension to be a suffering man, He lost nothing of His power as God omnipotent,–nothing of His infinite wisdom or glorious grace.  He could still do all that He could do as God from eternity.  If there be any thing, therefore, in a [joining] of infinite power with infinite condescension, to constitute a sanctuary for distressed sinners, it is all in Christ Jesus.  And if we see Him not glorious herein, it is because there is no light of faith in us.”

John Owen, The Glory of Christ.  


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Advent Reflection #21: “I Saw a Stable” by Mary Elizabeth Coleridge


I Saw a Stable

I saw a stable, low and very bare,

          A little child in a manger.

The oxen knew Him, had Him in their care,

          To men He was a stranger.

The safety of the world was lying there,

          And the world’s danger.

(Mary Elizabeth Coleridge)

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Advent Reflection #20: Matthew 1 & Luci Shaw

I’ve been preaching from Matthew 1 during Advent, and tomorrow I wrap up by looking at the meaning and relationship of the two names given to the Lord in the chapter:  “Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21) and “Immanuel (which means God with us)” (Matthew 1:23).

Thinking about the names of our Lord has set me to thinking about Treebeard’s observation regarding names in The Two Towers:  “My name is growing all the time, and I’ve lived a very long, long time; so my name is like a story.  Real names tell you the story of the things they belong to.”

I’ve been greatly helped (again!) by Luci Shaw’s reflections on the Incarnation in her poem, “Breath,” which is the reflection quote I selected for tomorrow’s bulletin and which I set out below.  I pray it will prove an accelerant for your own reflections and worship.


When, in the cavern darkness, Jesus

opened his small, bleating mouth (even before

his eyes widened to the supple world his

lungs had sighed into being), did he intuit

how hungrily the lungs gasp?  Did he begin, then,

to love the way air sighs as it brushes in and out

through the portals of tissue to sustain

the tiny heart’s iambic beating?  And how,

fueled by air, the dazzling blood tramps

the crossroads of the brain like donkey tracks,

corpuscles skittering to the earlobes and toenails?


Bottle of the breath of God, speaking in stories,

shouting across wild, obedient water, his voice

was stoppered only by inquisition, unfaith

and anguish.  Did he know that he would,

in the end, leak all his blood, heave a final

groan and throw his breath,

oxygen for the world, back to its Source

before the next dark cave?

Luci Shaw

Accompanied by Angels:  Poems of the Incarnation

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Advent Reflection #19: The Incarnation & the Mind of Christ (Philippians 2:5-8)


Philippians 2:5-8.  5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (ESV)

Do you have certain places in your Bible that you visit more often than others?  Passages to which you’ve returned again and again, the way you would to the observation deck at the Grand Canyon—to take in the view of something greater than you can grasp and more beautiful than you have words to express?  Philippians 2:5—8 is one of those places for me.

Paul’s in prison when he writes to the Philippian church, where there appear to be “issues.”  Those issues range from anemic unity (1:27; 2:2), to selfishness (2:3—4) to actual unresolved conflict in specific relationships (4:2—3).  Our passage, 2:5—8, is Paul’s comprehensive prescription for these ailments, and his counsel boils down to this:  have the mind of Christ Jesus.  Addressing the entire church, made up of many and diverse individuals, Paul first tells them to be of “one mind” (1:27), and then makes clear which “one mind” they’re to have:  the mind of Christ (2:5).  In other words, Paul isn’t interested in unity for unity’s sake; unity is not the absolute value of the Gospel.  The unity Paul urges upon the Philippians—the unity of the Gospel—is the fruit of the mind of Christ Jesus.  The singlemindedness that Paul exhorts them to pursue is Christ-mindedness.

All right, then, what does it mean to have the mind of Christ?  What would it look like for the Philippians to obey the apostle’s command in verse 5?  Anticipating this question, Paul goes on to explain the answer in verses 6—8, where he defines the mind of Christ in terms of 2 downward steps.

The first downward step that defines the mind of Christ is between verse 6 and verse 7.  This step describes how the Son of God stewarded His full deity.  What He did with His full deity was to enter full humanity in His incarnation!  We shouldn’t miss how deliberately Paul describes the incarnation in verse 7:  [He] “made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”  I get the feeling as I read this verse that Paul wants to slow the minds of his Christian readers down so that we don’t race past the fact of the incarnation of our Lord as merely a means to the end of our redemption.  The mere fact of His incarnation is so stunning, Paul wants us to dwell on it, and in this one verse he gives us 3 reasons to do so:  (1)  in His incarnation, the Son of God “made Himself nothing,” meaning, not that humanity has no value, but that, in comparison to the infinite glory the eternal Son of God possessed, becoming incarnate was a great and willing emptying of what rightfully belonged to Him; (2) in becoming incarnate, the Son of God was “taking the form of a servant,” referring not, I think, to His lowly station in life as a carpenter’s son, but, once again, to the mere fact of His incarnation, since God the Son was now before the Father as one of His created servants—a man; and (3) the way in which the Son of God willingly became incarnate:  “being born.”  In other words, the Son became a human in exactly the same way that every one since Adam & Eve becomes human:  by being born, by being small, entering the world through a birth canal, weak, vulnerable, dependent, through the very process that had been under the curse since Genesis 3.  He did not spare Himself this humbling.  Astonishing!

But as astonishing as this first downward step conceived by the mind of Christ was, it does not exhaust the wonder of our Lord’s mind.  Verse 8 deepens the wonder.  If verses 6—7 show us that the Son of God stewarded His full deity by taking on full humanity, verse 8 shows us how He stewarded His full humanity.  Once again, Paul employs a three-fold description to slow us down long enough so that we’ll linger over the wonder:  “He humbled Himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

“He humbled Himself….”  Isn’t this redundant, Paul?  Haven’t you already made this point by telling us how our Lord “made Himself nothing”?  This is not a statement about our Lord’s incarnation (i.e. the first step from deity to full humanity described in vv.6—7), but instead describes what He did with His incarnate existence:  “And being found in human form, He humbled Himself.”  After the first downward step of the mind of Christ in vv.6—7, this is breathtaking to me.  Having emptied Himself and “made Himself nothing” (v.7), having begun His incarnation at the same low place the rest of us have, He nonetheless willingly found—and entered—space beneath Him:  “He humbled Himself.”  Not, “He was humbled,” but “He humbled Himself.”  He did this willingly and freely, even after all He had already laid aside in order to take on human flesh.  He continued to descend, because for His mission to succeed it was not enough for Him to be a man like the rest of us; He had to become, and had to do, what none of the rest of us has ever been or ever done before God—He had to humble Himself as a man.

How did He humble Himself?  “…[B]y becoming obedient to the point of death.”  The wonders continue.  The eternal Son of God who was over all, willingly lived under the law of God in obedience to God, something, again, that none of us has ever done.  Don’t miss the irony of His obedience:  it carries Him “to the point of death.”  Our disobedience has rightly earned death (Romans 3:23; 6:23), but His “becoming obedient” should have spared Him death.  It did not.  Here, we see that His incarnation was designed as an identification with the curse of our disobedience against God.  The mere fact that the Son of God’s mind would willingly embrace a mission in which He would enter humanity and experience death—of any kind—is a wonder, to be sure.  But Paul still has one more wonder about the mind of Christ to set before us:  the manner of Christ’s death.

To become incarnate, the Son of God emptied Himself and “made Himself nothing” (v.7).  Once incarnate, “He humbled Himself….” (v.8).  He did this by becoming obedient to the point of death.  And how is it that this high and exalted One experienced death, Paul?  The apostle now supplies the third wonder of how the Son of God stewarded His humanity for our redemption:  “…even death on a cross” (v.8).  A death by torture.  A death of open shame.  A death of weakness.  A death of curse.  A substitutionary death He hadn’t earned but was willing to die because of the mind that was in Him.

This is high theology, indeed.  And not only the Apostle Paul, but the Holy Spirit believes it is necessary for healthy, Gospel-displaying relationships between Christians inside the church and Gospel-displaying mission outside the church.  And it begins with the exhortation to have the mind of Christ Jesus (v.5).

May the Lord continue to form this mind of Christ in each of us throughout this Advent season and beyond.


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