The Seventh Day of Advent
Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
It is one of my favorite Christmas memories! When I was a small child my mother would ask me to set up the manger crèche on our front table. I delighted in taking each figurine out of its box, holding it, thinking about it, and putting it in place. There were the elegantly dressed wise men, some humble shepherds, Mary and Joseph, along with a donkey, two sheep, and three camels. I remember each one, even the camel with a chipped hump. After every figure was in its place I would carefully lay Baby Jesus in His manger on top of some faux straw. I loved it!
But it was never as much fun to take down the crèche as it was to set it out. The day after Christmas I put Baby Jesus away in a box along with the other figures and stored it in a closet for a year. I came to imagine that Jesus was like the Jesus figurine that was here for Christmas and then gone. I was taking on what has been called a “drop-in” theory of the Incarnation. (Douglas Farrow, Ascension and Ecclesia) This is where Jesus ‘drops-in’ for a while, walks among us for thirty-three years, gets crucified, resurrected, rips off His flesh-suit and heads back to heaven. If I had been Jesus I think that’s what I would have done. But not Jesus! I also think that others commonly imagine ‘God in the flesh’ as but a temporary episode in Jesus’ life. But, thankfully, He forever wears a human body like ours, and will return in one.
Karl Barth describes Jesus’ humanity as “clothing which He does not put off. It is His temple which He does not leave. It is a form which He does not lose.” (Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, IV/2) This is the breathtaking decision of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to include us in His shared circle of love. The old Scottish theologian William Milligan wonderfully described Jesus as sitting at God’s right hand clothed in our human flesh:
Even at the right hand of God He is still the man Christ Jesus. The feelings, the emotions, the sympathies of His heart are exactly what they were when He welcomed the first symptoms of contrition in the woman who came to Him in Simon’s house, or when He wept over the unbelief of Jerusalem. Even now He would leave no penitent uncheered, no mourner uncomforted, no friend unloved, no little child unblessed. (William Milligan, The Ascension and Heavenly Priesthood of our Lord)
Jesus has not stopped being human and feeling with us what it means to be flesh and blood. He is now at the Father’s right hand fully God and fully human acting on our behalf in the life of the Trinity.
Today’s Scripture declares that in Jesus Christ “we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens”, and, “we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are.” Notice the repeated, “we have…we have”. This says more than Jesus passed through the heavens. Rather, Jesus is someone “we have” in heaven for us. He is there on our behalf. “The union of God and man in Christ was assumed into the immediate presence of God the Father on his throne – where Christ wears our human life, and it is in our name that he is there at the right hand of God the Father Almighty for us.” (Thomas Torrance, Scottish Theology from John Knox to John McLeod Campbell)
The Scottish reformer John Knox spoke of Jesus as our “fore-speaker”. He shows up in heaven before us, speaks on our behalf, and opens the way for us to “approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (John Knox, A Treatise on Prayer)
We have Jesus in heaven ‘fore’ us!
- Have you ever thought of Jesus as a “drop-in” who wore our humanity for thirty-three years and put it aside? How does knowing that Jesus is forever human affect the way that you think about Him? How might it affect the way that you pray to Him?
- What do you want to say to God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit about their decision to forever include us in their shared circle of love? Why not speak about this to God right now!
EMBODIED PRAYER: STANDING
The most common prayer position in the Old and New Testaments was standing with eyes open looking upward, and raising arms with open hands. It is a prayer position practiced by the Lord Jesus (Luke 9:28-32; John 17:1). Ancient Jews called this position the Amidah (“standing prayer”); early Christians knew it as the Orans (“praying”) position. This standing prayer is seen on wall drawings in the catacombs in Rome, and is the posture recommended by early Christian theologians and Church Fathers.
Just as we stand to express respect and awe in our culture, so we stand to embody our respect and wonder at God’s majesty and greatness. We raise open hands towards Him ready to receive, and open our eyes towards Him as the source of all life and goodness.
Today and every day of this first week of Advent, pray the Lord’s Prayer:
- Open hands raised towards heaven
- Open eyes looking expectantly to God