Monday, December 14, 2009

The Christ of Christmas: The Cosmic Revolution

The Christ of Christmas: The Cosmic Revolution

The nativity of Christ is the most profound example of humility known to humanity. As the author of Philippians writes when exhorting his fellow Christians to humbly consider others better than themselves, the example they should follow is that of Jesus Christ. He quotes the lines of an ancient Christian hymn or creed--ancient to us, but fresh and revolutionary to first century Christians. Your attitude, he says, should be the same as that of Christ:

"Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness and being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death–even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
–Philippians 2: 5-11

The author’s compact summation of the life and significance of Christ bears all the marks of the confessing Christians’ creed.

But for some, belief tends to fix almost solely on the nativity and crucifixion. It does not proceed to the triumph of Christ over the evil powers arrayed against him. Perhaps that is because we sometimes fail to understand the exaltation and universal rule of Christ.

Christians have a magnificent heritage expressed not only by the written word, but by a profound artistic, musical and architectural heritage which speaks not only of Christ born and crucified, but of Christ the resurrected; whom he and his followers believed to be the Logos, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.

The Christian heritage also speaks of Christ as the creating, sustaining and ordering of the entire cosmos. The moral perfection of Christ, Son of God, orders the entire cosmos. The author of Colossians puts it this way: "For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together...God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross."
–Colossians 1: 15-20

The author of Colossians is stating that the power which upholds and constantly informs the cosmos is the mind of Jesus Christ, whose mind is perfect. Neither chance nor gravity nor dark matter nor black holes nor any other human construct, no matter how valuable in articulating the ways in which the diverse structure of the universe operates, creates and upholds the cosmos. It is the divine mind of the cosmic Christ which creates, sustains and informs all that exists.

The divine mind is perfect in every respect. Christ’s mind has infused a perfect moral order into the entire cosmos.

Evil is a distortion of that moral created order. Evil, with it’s consequence of death, was defeated by the birth, death and resurrection of Christ. Evil has been fatally wounded, is being destroyed and will be destroyed completely with the triumphant return of Christ.

That is the true story of the Christmas revolution.

God himself, made manifest as a human being, wrote the entire history of the earth into the overarching moral structure of the cosmos. The redemptive moral order displayed in the life work of Jesus Christ is also written into the fabric of our world and political orders as well as into the individual human conscience. Humans and the societal structures they create ignore, distort and rebel against that moral order to their own peril and destruction.

Insofar as Christians note the moral deformities of their own lives and the profound dislocation of societal orders, they are called by God to make things right by courageous moral action. The call to redeem societal evils is part of what is meant by conforming one’s self to the image of Jesus Christ. That conformity to a higher moral order is part of what Christ meant when he told his followers to pray, "Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven."

There is, on other words, a heavenly order which transcends and informs all earthly structures. Thus the Christian’s life will be filled with attempts to combat the distortions evil brings into their lives and the lives of others. Their combative stand against evil is based on the belief that the world order should match the standards of the kingdom of God, which kingdom is ruled by one perfectly just and perfectly righteous; one who has revealed himself and his law through the prophets of old and most completely in the person of Christ Jesus, Savior of the world.

The cultural and moral heritage of Christianity is so varied, so rich and deep that it is hard to choose one work which is a definitive example of the triumphant Christ, creator of the universe and Victor over evil. But a favorite work of Christian art is the Resurrection scene depicted by Matthias Grunewald in his Isenheim triptych. It is found here on this link:

Grunewald’s depiction of the resurrected Christ captures the other worldly but recognizable visage of the victorious Christ. Grunewald’s painting bears a strong resemblance to the vision of Christ recorded by St. John the Divine in his book of Revelation. John, once the young and devoted companion of Jesus, wrote while exiled to the isle of Patmos. A the age of ninety years, he heard a voice, and turned and beheld Christ.

"I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw...someone like a "Son of Man," dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held even stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance."
--Revelation 1:12-16

We don’t know if Grunewald saw the same vision of Christ as did St. John the Divine, but we do know the Christ both saw, each in his own way, is shown as a victor over evil. St. John notes the double edged sword, which in biblical parlance depicts the perfection and inevitability of divine judgement.

But John is instructed to issue a word of warning to the seven churches located in present day Turkey. Judgement is to be delayed in order that Christians repent of their weaknesses, ignorance, distortions and sins so that they may be light in their societal order. That order was, of course, the Roman Empire, which eventually did succumb to the influence of Christianity.

Two thousand years have elapsed since St. John’s vision. Two thousand years have gone by since the birth, death and resurrection of Christ.

But the claims and demands of the gospel in all its ramifications have not been nullified. Far from it. It is imperative that the Church of Jesus Christ rise up to confront, to challenge and to reform a deteriorating moral order wherever it is found, be it in our own nation or around the globe.
Our call to continue to be a transforming influence in our culture has not receded; on the contrary, it is our own deafness and blindness which prevents our hearing and seeing that our call is more urgent than ever.

It is up to Christians to prayerfully repent, and to recapture with all due humility--but with all due conviction--the impetus of the revolution begun at Christmas so long ago.

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