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Rector's Blog

Christmas and the Image of God

ross.hathway@stnicholasgoulburn.org

Christmas and the Image of God

*/"You mean to tell me God became a baby and that he was born in a cattle shed and then raised in a blue collar home?"/*

Seems absurd? I suggest it's no more absurd than other ideas of God that permeate the airwaves and ethernet around us. However why God was born as a baby may seem absurd when you contemplate it. The motive for the 'Incarnation' -- God becoming a human being is to do with a love that is not logical. The story of the Bible is the story of man letting God down. When you read the failures of Adam, Joseph, Aaron, David, Samson...God's love seems irrational. And yet that's what the Bible says. Here is the baby who had created the animals who sniffed him inquisitively in the manger after he was born. A baby who grew up to become a blood stained man who hung on a cross made of wood from a tree that he had created.

"Blood stained royalty. A God with tears. A Creator with a heart. God became earth's mockery to save his children. How absurd to think that such nobility would go to such poverty to share such treasure with such thankless souls.

But he did. In fact the only thing more absurd than this gift is our stubborn unwillingness to receive it".[i]

Here is a promise which passes all understanding. Those who follow Christ are destined to bear his image, and to be the brothers and sisters of the firstborn Son of God. Their goal is to become 'as Christ'. Christ's followers always have his image before their eyes, and in its light all other images are screened from their sight. It penetrates into the depths of their being, fills them, and makes them more and more like their Master. The image of Jesus Christ impresses itself in daily communion on the image of the disciple. No follower of Jesus can contemplate his image in a spirit of cold detachment. That image has the power to transform our lives, and if we surrender ourselves utterly to him, we cannot help bearing his image ourselves. We become the children of God, we stand side by side with Christ, our unseen Brother, bearing like him the image of God. When the world began, God created Adam in his own image, as the climax of his creation. He wanted to have the joy of beholding in Adam the reflection of himself. 'And behold, it was very good.' God saw himself in Adam. Here, right from the beginning, is the mysterious paradox of man. He is a creature, and yet he is destined to be like his Creator. Created man is destined to bear the image of uncreated God. Adam is 'as God'. His destiny is to bear this mystery in gratitude and obedience towards his Maker. But the false serpent persuaded Adam that he must still do something to become like God: he must achieve that likeness by deciding and acting for himself. Through this choice Adam rejected the grace of God, choosing his own action. He wanted instead to unravel the mystery of his being for himself, to make himself what God had already made him. That was the Fall of man. Adam became 'as God' in his own way. But now that he had made himself god, he no longer had a God. He ruled in solitude as a creator-god in a God-forsaken subjected world. But the riddle of human nature was still unsolved. With the loss of the God-like nature God had given him, man had forfeited the destiny of his being, which was to be like God. In short, man had ceased to be man. He must live without the ability to live. Herein lies the paradox of human nature

Since that day, the sons of Adam in their pride have striven to recover the divine image by their own efforts. The more serious and devoted their attempt to regain the lost image and the more proud and convincing their apparent success, the greater their contradiction to God. Their misshapen form, modelled after the god they have invented for themselves, grows more and more like the image of Satan, though they are unaware of it. The divine image, which God in his grace had given to man, is lost for ever on this earth. But God does not neglect his lost creature. He plans to recreate his image in man, to recover his first delight in his handiwork. He is seeking in it his own image so that he may love it. But there is only one way to achieve this purpose and that is for God, out of sheer mercy, to assume the image and form of fallen man. As man can no longer be like the image of God, God must become like the image of man. But this restoration of the divine image concerns not just a part, but the whole of human nature. It is not enough for man simply to recover right ideas about God, or to obey his will in the isolated actions of his life. No, man must be re-fashioned as a living whole in the image of God. His whole form, body, soul and spirit, must once more bear that image on earth. Such is God's purpose and destiny for man. His good pleasure can rest only on his perfected image. An image needs a living object, and a copy can only be formed from a model. Either man models himself on the god of his own invention, or the true and living God moulds the human form into his image. There must be a complete transformation, a 'metamorphosis' (Rom. 12.2; II Cor. 3.18), if man is to be restored to the image of God. How then is that transformation to be effected? Since fallen man cannot rediscover and assimilate the form of God, the only way is for God to take the form of man and come to him. The Son of God who dwelt in the form of God the Father, lays aside that form, and comes to man in the form of a slave (Phil. 2.5ff). The change of form, which could not take place in man, now takes place in God. The divine image which had existed from eternity with God, assumes the image of fallen, sinful man. God sends his Son in the likeness of sinful flesh (Rom. 8.2 f). God sends his Son - here lies the only remedy. It is not enough to give man a new philosophy or a better religion. A Man comes to men. Every man bears an image. His body and his life become visible. A man is not a bare word, a thought or a will. He is above all and always a man, a form, an image, a brother. And thus he does not create around him just a new way of thought, will and action, but he gives us the new image, the new form. Now in Jesus Christ this is just what has happened. The image of God has entered our midst, in the form of our fallen life, in the likeness of sinful flesh. In the teaching and acts of Christ, in his life and death, the image of God is revealed. In him the divine image has been re-created on earth. The Incarnation, the words and acts of Jesus, his death on the cross, are all indispensable parts of that image.[ii] 

 

[i]  Lucado MaxGod came near Multnomah Press 1987 p34.

[ii]  Bonhoeffer, Dietrich (2011-08-16). The Cost of Discipleship (SCM Classics) (Kindle Locations 4113-4133).

Happy Anniversary!

StNicholas Goulburn

Happy 150th Anniversary to St Nicholas North Goulburn! Being a relative new comer (I haven’t been ‘in saddle’ 12 months yet) I say this with conviction and pleasure. The last 11 months have been an enjoyable journey as my wife and I have come to know folk and share their Christian journey. “We walk by faith and not by sight”; And so have the generations that have lived out their lives of service to Christ in this place.


Please see the details of the events that will take place over the weekend of May 24th and 25th to commemorate St Nicholas as a Parish in Goulburn. 


Our adopted theme is that of Psalm 100:4,5. 


“Enter God’s gates with thanksgiving and his courts with Praise: give thanks to him and praise his name. For the lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations”.


The Bible encourages us to remember and give thanks. God commanded the Israelites to hold feasts commemorating the things he did for them. He knew it was all too easy for them to forget because of the distractions and demands of every day like. He wants us to remember what he has done in history and in everyday life. When we forget God’s faithfulness we have a tendency to take the future into our own hands. It is vital to remember the works of God in our lives if we are to live soberly, joyfully and caringly as befitting his children. 

But there is more. A commemoration or anniversary is a reminder of our future and how we can be confident in a world where the lessons of history are not learnt. The Christian’s hope is both individual and cosmic. Apart from Christ the fear of death and nothingness is everywhere ignored. It is a taboo in our society. 

The film director Woody Allen in an article in Esquire magazine in 1977 said “The fundamental thing behind all motivation and all activity is the constant struggle against annihilation and against death. It’s absolutely stupefying in its terror and renders anyone’s accomplishments meaningless”.  


Perhaps this is too bleak for you? It’s interesting that the Israelites had to bring the first fruits of their harvest to God (Leviticus 23 and Deuteronomy 26). It was to be a reminder that it is God’s providential care that ensures our future. Easter is recently past for 2014 and I am reminded how the Bible calls Jesus the ‘first fruits of the harvest’ and ‘the first born from the dead’. Both metaphors give assurance that just as he rose we shall follow if we trust in Him. Indeed he will cosmically regenerate our spoiled earth and make all things new. Heaven will be a place of righteousness and goodness, the things we long for but never quite achieve (an interesting thing itself that we are ‘wired’ to long for such a state of existence). 
So anniversaries for Christians are a celebration of the future as much as the past. Why don’t you come and join is on May 24th and 25th?

Ross Hathway.

Christmas in the Flesh

ross.hathway@stnicholasgoulburn.org

"In The Flesh"

 

"Darlin' darlin' darlin' I can't wait to see you Your picture ain't enough I can't wait to touch you in the flesh Darlin' darlin' darlin' I can't wait to hear you Remembering your love Is nothing without you in the flesh"

This was one of the Rock Group Blondie's first hits ( from the early 1980's-yes I am showing my age).

'Flesh'. Its all around us. It titillates (advertising agencies know this in getting us to buy a particular product).

It troubles -- 'my body is not perfect, I must see a surgeon".

It terrifies- zombie movies and TV detective shows with half decayed cadavers on the cold steel of the mortuary table.

It tantalizes -- we will all be wanting to lose weight after Christmas. Some of us are at the gym, some of us are on steroids to boost our self esteem.

It traumatizes- some of us are repulse by raw flesh and won't go anywhere near the butcher shop. No barbies!

Somebody said to me that they had seen a movie star 'in the flesh'.

'In the flesh' literally means 'in person'. That is what the verse of the song above is longing for...

At Christmas time we remember that the word 'Incarnation' is from the Latin 'in the flesh'.

John's Gospel chapter 1 verse 14. Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth

In other words, God became a human being. This is what Christmas is about. But like TV ads and distorted body image we don't get it.

And yet it is a great (true) story. God became a baby, born in a sheep shed, raised in blue collar home, never went to university and never travelled outside his own country.

It is a story that vexes people and even people like the celebrated, now deceased skeptic Christopher Hitchens have said that the Gospel stories of Jesus have the ring of truth about them 1.

But there is more to it. The coming in flesh by God was for a rather grisly and visceral end.

You may be aware if you have heard the Easter story of the crucifixion of Christ. Betrayed, buried in borrowed grave, and then to cap it all off, came alive after three days. Sound absurd? It's no more absurd than other explanations as to why we are all here. But when you drill down into it, it does makes sense. The world is mucked up. Only a sacrifice of flesh is sufficient to fix it all up according to the Bible and a special kind of flesh at that.

Bloodstained royalty identifying with us. The biggest gift has always been God in the flesh. God has made the first move and put his body on the line for us. That is why the words of the Christmas carols piped into the shops leave Blondie's lyrics for dead.

Come and see this Christmas. Check out our service times on this website.

Ross Hathway. Rector.

 

1. God is not great p118

--

The Revd. Ross Hathway

Rector

St Nicholas Anglican Church, Goulburn

ross.hathway@stnicholasgoulburn.org

Office 02 4821 4976

17 Kinghorne St, Goulburn

TO KNOW CHRIST AND TO MAKE HIM KNOWN