The Ultimate Mystery – the Finite can Contain the Infinite
25 Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26 but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith –27 to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen. (Romans 16:25-27 ESV)
We know the Christmas story – probably more the Victorian age, 19th century, version – but if I was to ask you what is happening next Friday, you will all say Christmas in your answers. And when I ask what Christmas is about here in a church setting, we all know we will get Jesus as the answer – his birth, angels, shepherd, a manger even if we get some extra answers as well. In the Church there is Jesus but in the world – what Christmas is for them oscillates often between Jesus as unknown through to not prominent or central. For the world, Christmas is more family – our families – rather than the holy family.
So Christmas is coming. Are you excited? Well, it will be one to remember – or forget! But that’s the way it is with Jesus. We want his presents not him. We want help but not the Helper. And so Christmas can have Jesus in it but keep him small, in the background, and only active when we need him. To have Jesus dynamic, acting on his own agenda, forcing people to respond – in the way that I’m forcing you to hear me – when us physical beings share a same space, we are aware of each other (just ask someone who lives with a snorer!) is problematic for humanity. What if God or Jesus do something without consulting me, then we have to respond to him, we have to act according to God’s agenda and not ours.
And that’s what Mary discovered when Gabriel turned up and her world wasn’t the same again. She’s fearful – a strange male like person interacting with her – and she’s by herself or at least not with others who see Gabriel as well – and she’s gutsy enough to ask for the details of this baby to be – perhaps she’s hoping it will be with Joseph but no, it is by the Holy Spirit and the power of the Most High – and the ‘evidence’ that God is active is Mary’s older cousin Elizabeth who couldn’t have children is pregnant when she shouldn’t be. With no guarantees of affluence, safety, respect, a pain free birth, even Joseph with her, Mary becomes the epitome of faith, she obeys, ‘Behold I am the servant of the Lord, let it be according to your Word’. She leaps.
I wonder whether Mary ever had any regrets? That question or suggestion might be controversial even offensive to some Christians and I don’t mean to be anything but curious and reflective. The Bible doesn’t say but we do know that her obedience wasn’t easy street for her – I think she was dogged by the scandal around Jesus’ birth, and we know the family were refugees early on; we know Mary and the family were worried about Jesus and once came to bring him home and we know that Jesus called the people who listened to God’s Word his mother and brothers and sisters. And then, of course, Mary is at the foot of the cross. My point is to say that leaping and trusting and believing does shape life – that’s why betrayal so hurts us – but while we have security if it goes well, the anchor is only tested in the storm. So the idea of faith as some analgesic that switches off your brain to the world is rubbish because in effect it switches on your brain to the world and your circumstance because you want to remain faithful. Faith can be a comforting blanket but I think more often it’s a wrestling partner that just won’t let go.
The apostle Paul comes onto the Christian scene after Jesus’ resurrection and is hostile to the message of Jesus and more hostile to the followers of Jesus. Christian can talk about Jesus as God all they like
but Paul wouldn’t see past his then faith. And his struggle meant that he believed persecution and violence was the answer. Until Jesus interrupted him on the road to Damascus – there Jesus is again, interrupting life, working to his agenda, forcing Paul to respond – and Paul obeys Jesus also – believes and follows Jesus and radically is baptised after one large catechism class for the blind!
Paul will not have his life on easy street ever again. Not only will his faith wrestle him but the world and circumstance – which means God allows it – will attack him. He responds as best he can with the same goal in mind – point to Jesus, mention Jesus, praise Jesus. Because that is how God steps in front of people and confronts them with himself and themselves. What was secret is now revealed – that in meeting Jesus – you encounter a Trinitarian God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – whose goal is for you to be with him in love and life forever. Whether in person or in writing that’s whom Paul wanted people to meet and understand – God in Jesus and how he works (rescuing us on the cross as truly human and truly God) – who we are (sinners who don’t really understand themselves – the good I want to do I don’t do and that bad I don’t want to do I do!) – and how God saves us through faith and given in baptism.
It doesn’t matter how old Jesus is when you meet him – whether at Christmas or Easter or in between – when you do you are confronted – there it is again, this Jesus working to his own agenda – with the biggest mystery of all – how can the infinite fit into the finite? How can God fit into Mary’s womb? Lie in a manger? Surely there has got to be ‘bits’ of God let over, left out? And that’s a scary thought – what if that bit of God isn’t gracious and doesn’t love us?
But the mystery remains that Jesus is fully God and he fully reveals God – no bits left out – the finite can contain the infinite – and that is the greatest truth of Christmas – Jesus lives up to his name Immanuel – God with us. That is why the Real Presence of Jesus in Holy Communion is a no-brainer for us. When a secret is revealed it is no longer secret but a mystery lasts lots longer even with explanations – and that is the case here today – on Friday at Christmas – and as we wrestle with faith – and leap to be obedient – God is with us – for us, not against us. To live apart from this Jesus is to strike out in life on our own and it is never as good a life as if you had followed Jesus. And that’s a faith statement – born out by numerous incidents in our life when we were confronted with options about what to do. Tell Gabriel take a hike or not? Reject Jesus and stay blind or not? Bow down at a baby in a manger and know where he will die for you and say, ‘Lord’ and then follow him according to his word.
Christmas, Jesus, Christianity – just got real and personal. But we’re not great on obedience or faith! Don’t be afraid! Jesus is for you not against you.
- Romans 16:25 - 27