Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Wednesday in Easter 3: The tension between incarnation and identification

Opening Sentence
Their sound has gone out into all lands, and their message to the ends of the world. Psalm 19:4

Commemoration: Mark
Almighty God, who by the hand of Mark the evangelist has given to your Church the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God: We thank you for this witness, and pray that we may be firmly grounded in its truth; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Psalter: Psalm 38

Lessons: Exodus 19:16-25, Colossians 1:15-23, Matthew 3:13-17

John the Baptist was a fiery prophet, but a humble man. God had raised him up for a specific purpose and, even at the height of his popularity, he remained committed to that purpose. He was the forerunner, the one who was to prepare the way. He knew Jesus was coming after him and would do much greater things. He would not be worthy to be the lowliest of his servants.

That, too, ought to be our attitude. We are not worthy of the least of God's favors. Yet, in Christ, God has come down to our level and raised us up that we may reflect his glory.

In submitting to baptism, Jesus identifies with sinners. John reminds us, however, that the baptism Jesus brings is a baptism with the Holy Spirit and with fire. John prepares the way for Jesus to come in judgment against sinners, yet Jesus identifies with the very sinners he comes to judge. His is a judgment of separation. The wheat will be separated from the chaff. The standard of judgment, however, will not be how "religious" you are. Rather, it will be whether or not you identify with the Christ who identifies with you.

John's preaching of fiery judgment is tempered by Jesus' humble act of identification. God's judgment is real and very much imminent. Proclaiming it with integrity, however, means identifying with the sinners--the very sinners whom Jesus comes to judge, but longs to save.

This is the true tension in which we live as citizens of the kingdom of God in the midst of the kingdom of this world. It is the tension between incarnation and identification. We are to live as the ongoing incarnation of Christ in the world, yet we are also to identify with the sinners. In fact, such identification is part and parcel to incarnational living. We must recognize there is no one who stands more in need of redemption than ourselves. To find that redemption, however, we cannot look to ourselves. We must look to Christ, the One who calls us to live by his example. He was without sin, yet he became sin on our behalf. Thus, the tension between incarnation and identification is the definitive Christian life. We cannot live incarnationally without identifying with sinners; but we cannot identify with sinners without looking to and placing our faith in the One who says, "Follow me."

(JAG)

Jesus Calls Us O'er the Tumult