First, a question.
Think back on the Christmas story. After Jesus is born, when he’s about three years old, the wise men go to King Herod and say that they’re looking for this newborn King. Herod is shocked to hear about a child-king having been born right under his nose, whose potential future reign threatens his own, and so he puts out a decree calling for the death of all children ages three and under (in history and art this is referred to as “The Slaughter of the Innocents”. An angel comes to Joseph in a dream and tells him to flee to Egypt to prevent this from happening.
Here’s the question:
Why flee to Egypt? If they stayed and Herod killed the child Jesus, would that not still be Jesus, the Son of God–the Incarnate God–dying unjustly at the hands of a Roman provincial governor attempting to cement the reign of the powers and principalities of the world? Why go to all that effort to wait 30 years later for the same thing to happen on a cross?
“No more let sins and sorrows grow, Nor thorns infest the ground” –Joy to the World
In order for the mission of Advent to be complete, Jesus needed to taste much more than death. He needed to taste our comprehensive fallenness. And at three years old, he had not.
The presence of sin in this world is something that infects far more than our actions and motives. It is comprehensive: it’s in our relationships, our bodies, our crops, our justice, and our governance; it’s in our entertainment, our sport, our humor, and our weather; it’s in our technology, art, science, and history. It’s woven into the most meaningful and most intimate parts of our human lives and existence.
And in Adventing, Jesus intended to make it all new.
Gregory of Naziaznus once said: “the unassumed is the unredeemed” (“assumed” as in “taken upon oneself”). Or, in other words, “What Christ did not taste, Christ did not redeem”. Everything in your life and in this world that needs redeeming, if Jesus did not undergo it or experience it, it was not paid for on the cross and we have no hope.
“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of this Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” –Romans 5:10
“God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us…” –Romans 8:3
In his Advent, Jesus did not just come “for sin” but he came in the “likeness of sinful flesh”, so that in the end, it’s not just his death that saves us, but also his life. Without the Advent and God’s 33-year long incarnated inhabitation of life and this world, we would only have a “single cure”–we would be saved from God’s punishment and death, but we would know no freedom, righteousness, and true redemption.
“Be of sin the double cure; save from wrath and make me pure.” –Rock of Ages
But the beauty and good news of Advent is that Jesus did not just come to die. He took the absolute and comprehensive nature of our world infected by sin and let it infect him. And so when he dies, he is in effect killing our fallenness in his own body, or as Paul puts it: “he condemned sin the flesh.”
“He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found”
Joy to the world, indeed!
(This post (and this series, admittedly) plays off of a recent Advent blog post by J. R. Daniel Kirk. He’s an amazing theologian and person and runs one of the best Bible blogs on the web. Check him out.)
[image credit: Marc Chagall, “Apocalypse in Lilac, Capriccio”]