Reading Ramblings – January 1, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Second Sunday of Christmas – January 1, 2016

Texts: Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 8; Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 2:21

Context: We continue to explore the Christmas miracle, that the Son of God should become human. And as such, subject to the customs and expectations peculiar to the people of God, the descendants of Moses. A recipient of the Aaronic blessing as it had been issued for 1500 years. According to his human nature, a marvelous creation of God the Father. A recipient of the sign of circumcision given to Abraham. But destined to extend the blessing of this sign to all peoples, not by virtue of a physical act to their body or their lineage in Abraham, but rather through faith in him.

Numbers 6:22-27 – At the conclusion of another list of directions, and immediately prior to the dedication of the Tabernacle, God instructs Aaron through Moses in how to bless his people. To bless can have several meanings, depending on context. When God blesses us, we think of it in terms of bestowing favor and goodness, or conveying benefits. It is interesting that God’s directives on this come immediately following instructions regarding a Nazirite vow, a word that a man speaks to God concerning his determination. When God speaks to us, we hear his determination that we should be well, that those in proper relationship with him would receive the benefits of his favor and goodness. This is God’s primary attitude towards his creation at all times, an attitude of blessing and benevolence, and his people should remember and trust this at all times and in all situations, to the end that they would have peace.

Psalm 8 – A psalm of praise to God and more specifically, the first such psalm in the psalter. Following a series of psalms praying for God’s deliverance, and prior to a psalm remembering God’s saving works in the past, this psalm emphasizes the very nature of God as worthy of praise and worship, regardless of our current circumstances. This begins in a general sense in verses 1 and 2, and then transitions to a more personal sense in verses 3 and 4, as though the speaker is relating particular things they have noticed that lead them to recognize that God’s name is majestic over all creation. How many of us have gone out into the night sky and gazed up at the stars in the darkness and marveled along with the psalmist that God could care for us, such a small part of the vastness of creation? Verses 5 through 8 echo the dominion conveyed in Genesis 1 & 2 as further evidence that the Lord truly is majestic over all creation (v.9).

Galatians 3:23-29 – What is the role of the Law? Was it ever intended to save us, or was it a means of protecting us? Was it a tutor who prepared us for our coming of age in Christ? Paul revisits familiar themes in the first half of this chapter, insisting that the Law cannot save us, that only faith can do this. Verse 22 makes a statement that Paul will elaborate on in the final verses of the chapter – that the Law has imprisoned everyone.

The Law – which existed implicit in creation from the beginning – only becomes a prison when sin enters the picture. The Law cannot do anything but show us our guilt, which sin multiplies, trapping us and raising awareness that we are incapable of the moral and ethical behavior the Law demands, let alone the proper worship and reverence of the God who established the Law. God intended this – intended that we realize our failure and shortcoming before God, that we might look for a source of salvation other than the Law. Christ is that salvation. Jesus comes that we might be saved despite our sinful inability and unwillingness to fulfill the Law. Now that Jesus has come, the Law no longer imprisons us, and it no longer – in the eternal sense – condemns and imprisons us because through faith in Jesus Christ we are credited with his righteousness, his perfect obedience to God’s Law.

In Christ, all stand free and redeemed before God. The distinction between the Christian Jew as the keeper of the Law and the descendant of Abraham and therefore God’s chosen person and the Gentile who has none of these things but has Christ is now abolished. The sinful distinctions inherent in our broken inability to fulfill the Law are wiped away. It is not as though there is no longer literally a Jewish person and a non-Jewish person, though. It is not as though there is no longer male and female. God created us male and female, after all! But in how accessible God is to us, these distinctions no longer matter, no longer hinder, no longer divide and separate us. Through faith in Jesus Christ, we all have equal access to God the Father’s forgiveness and grace.

Luke 2:21 – Mary and Joseph are obedient to the Law, and thus by implication so is Jesus. Mary and Joseph do not presume that the divine nature of their child, the amazing circumstances of his conception and birth, the mysterious angelic visitations somehow excuse them from obedience to God’s Word. Following God’s command to Abraham in Genesis 17, Mary and Joseph have Jesus circumcised on the eighth day.

Jesus comes to save all mankind, but He is not a generic man, but rather a very specific and particular man, and therefore subject to the Law of God. While many talk about Jesus’ baptism as the moment He embraces his identity as all of humanity represented in himself, we might also talk about Jesus’ circumcision as the moment when He embraces his identity as all of Israel, all of God’s chosen people.

The miracle is that the Word by whom all things were spoken into creation (John 1:1-5) becomes subject to the nature of creation. Born to parents. Circumcised. A specific and particular man within the broad group of Abraham’s descendants and God’s covenant people. Christ who comes for us is also one with us. This is easily as big a mystery and even miracle as the virgin conception and birth, but we don’t tend to think of it on the same level. That Christ would give up the eternal glory of the Trinity, the Godhead, to become a baby. An infant. Child to a mother. Part of a family that in turn is part of the larger family of God’s people, and who will, in time, allow that privilege to be available to anyone through their faith and trust in his atoning death, resurrection, ascension, and promised return.

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