35 Q. What does it mean that he
“was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary”?
A. That the eternal Son of God,
who is^1and remains
true and eternal God,^2
took to himself,
through the working of the Holy Spirit,^3
from the flesh and blood of the virgin Mary,
a truly human nature^4
so that he might also become David’s true descendant,^5
like his brothers and sisters in every way^6
except for sin.^7
^1 John 1:1;17:5; Rom. 1:4
^2 Rom. 9:5; Gal. 4[:4]
^3 Matt. 1:18, 20; Luke 1:27,35; Eph. 1
^4 John 1:14;Gal. 4:4
^5 Ps. 132:11;Rom. 1:3
^6 Phil. 2:7
^7Heb. 4:15; 7:26
36 Q. How does the holy conception and birth of Christ
A. He is our mediator^1
and, in God’s sight,
he covers with his innocence and perfect holiness
my sinfulness in which I was conceived.^2
^1 Heb. 2:16-17
^2 Ps. 32:1;1 Cor. 1:30
LORD’S DAY 14 (Q/A 35-36)
“Not Fad, Not Cool, But True”
I’m frequently asked in my travels how can the Church connect with young people. Broader still, how does the Church connect to people. Period.
I intentionally stay away from the vocabulary of relevance. Instead, I draw from homiletician Jennifer Lord’s reference to insights from neurological science,w hich understands our “emotional brain” acting as a valve that latches onto certain things while letting go others. This is called “salience,” or that which “jumps out” at you.
Salience, not relevance. Salience has the quality of surprise, of mystery.
Too often, discussions of relevance become about marketing, branding, and messaging without the more essential and difficult work of change to the essence, to the heart and soul, of the Church community. Relevance often gets lumped with “contemporary,” morphing into conversations about strategies of how to make a worship service more “hip”; that somehow putting a drum set or a Powerpoint projector in the sanctuary and having a pastor remove the Geneva gown, preach without manuscript/notes in order to preach “from heart” — that somehow these cosmetic changes will make a community “cool” and therefore “relevant.”
God’s revelation, God’s incarnation, God becoming flesh and blood as Jesus Christ – has nothing to do with the latest fad, or the cool factor. God taking on the human nature was not, and has never been about relevance. It’s about salience – the surprise, the mystery that almighty God through the Holy Spirit would take on the flesh and blood of Mary to be in solidarity with humanity. It was so shocking, so unexpected that the Scriptures attest that he was not accepted by his own home/people (John 1:11).
God as Jesus Christ by the power and work of the Holy Spirit becomes for us what we cannot be apart from Him – fully human who live as image-bearers of God.
We do one of two things, or both: we seek to be in solidarity with each other but fail to fully grasp what it means to be in solidarity; or we do the opposite and separate ourselves from one another through violence, hatred, unforgiving hearts.
To the former – our attempts to fully be in solidarity with one another eventually falls short because of our limitations as human beings. Every attempt I make to pray for and understand the plight of our Syrian and Lebanese sisters and brothers, even with a personal visit there last May, I cannot fully grasp their experience and situation. We see this play out in church and in the culture in our attempts to be more racially-diverse, to combat racism and to undo racism. Even on the best days when folks seek to understand the past-present wounds and scars of those who have been on the receiving end of racism, the attempt to be in full solidarity falls short.
To the latter – human alienation, separation, division, and brokenness – we do that too, and we seem to do it well as innate to our natures .
Q/A 35-36 shows us that God does not seek to be cool, or to take up the 1st century fad; God seeks to be true – true to Himself – the loving and gracious God who seeks to reconcile the world to Himself and sets Himself on the path to do just that. God’s words, God’s will, God’s intention, and God’s actions are one and the same. God is true to Himself.
And God is true to us. God knows us more than we know ourselves. Even with our sin that prevents us from fully being in solidarity with God, with each other, and ourselves, God commits Himself to reconcile us, to make us whole.
The freedom that we have in God’s incarnation as Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit is that even as we are to truly love one another and be in solidarity with the human condition on the micro- and macro- levels, to pray, to listen, to empathize with the joys and struggles of our neighbors – we can live in the freedom that even with our best efforts, we cannot fully know. We are to be true to who we are.
Even as we are to be true to who God is to us. To be true to who God is to us is to be true to God’s true self to us – as our Almighty Creator, as our Savior and Lord. In other words, to be true to who God is to us is to worship….to give God the worth due God’s name because of what God has revealed and given to the world in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.
A lifelong commitment to live as image-bearers of God can only come when the Holy Spirit births in us the life of Jesus Christ. No strategy can do that; that’s the Holy Spirit’s work and power. And with the Holy Spirit in charge, we cannot manage when or how birth, rebirth, and the daily re-birthing occurs. In not knowing the when or how, in not being able to control or manage the work of God, then our life, our new life (and even death) is about receiving gift, receiving that which God births, and receiving the One whom God births.
And that’s precisely the point…the salient point.