19 December 2007

"The Doctrine of Bethlehem" - part 1

As we continue and conclude our Advent preparations, and as we look forward to celebrating the Christ-Mass, here's a little something from Pr. Berthold von Schenk on what he calls "The Doctrine of Bethlehem." Some great and meaty devotional reading for our Advent preparations and Christmas celebrations!

Chapter 1
“Et Incarnatus Est”

The Church confesses, “I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God…. Being of one substance with the Father, by Whom all things were made; Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary and was made man.”

This sublime truth of Christmas is based on the simply story told by Luke: “While they were there the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son; and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Another Evangelist tells of Wise Men who came to Jerusalem at the time of the birth of Jesus and inquired: “Where is he that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.” The Wise men sought Bethlehem. They asked, “Where is Bethlehem?” This should be our great quest. Can we find Bethlehem to-day? [sic] Can Bethlehem be more to us than an historical event? The Wise Men found Bethlehem. The Shepherds also found it and worshipped the Child. We too can find Him if we are men and women of good-will, if we have a sincerity of purpose, seeking earnestly and eagerly. We might have to overcome certain habits, rid ourselves of some prejudices, and permit ourselves to be guided and to follow the sign given unto us.

Repentance is the condition for a successful quest.

Repentance is necessary before we can find the real Bethlehem. Thus John, the herald of the Christ, preached repentance as a necessary condition for entrance into the Kingdom. The word that is used in the New Testament for repentance literally means a change of mind. This is not simply an acceptance of new ideas in place of old notions. It actually implies a complete change of one’s inner attitude.

To repent is to change the inner attitude toward self, toward sin, toward God, toward Christ. The Herald of the Messiah came preaching to vile publicans and to haughty Pharisees, “Change your inner attitude.” He who seeks the way to Bethlehem will get this direction, “Except you repent, change your attitude, have a complete reversal of your inner attitude, you will never find Christmas.”

How Shall We Find Bethlehem?

There is first of all the doctrine of Bethlehem. There is nothing more thrilling than when Christians confess—“And was made man.” We want to kneel when we express this great mystery that God became man.

To state it very simply, the doctrine of Bethlehem is that God became man and remained God. The human nature of the Divine Redeemer was the instrument of His redemptive work. We must believe that, for John says: “Every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God.” Scripture thus calls Him the Son of Abraham, the Rod of Jesse, the Son of Mary. God had to become man and lower Himself. Let us imagine a conversation in Heaven. God the Father says to His Son, “You wish to redeem mankind? It is better not to don the apparel of a Ruler, on the contrary, in a manger you will lie, the lowliest bed, and this bed will be in a stable, for such is the world to which you will go.”

To find Bethlehem, then, we must realize that our Saviour, that Child in the Bethlehem manger, is the SON OF MAN. This does not mean that He was the ideal man, the flower of manhood! He was of course all of that, and more. He was the one wonderful man who is at once the child of Mary and the Son of the Living God.

Behold this wondrous Person:
Of the Father’s love begotten—in a stable.
He whom the Heavens could not contain—a poor Babe.
He forgives sins—and is despised.
He is the Lord of Sabaoth—and has no place to rest His Head.
He sits at the right hand of God—and dies.

It was God’s plan from eternity that if man should sin, He would send the Redeemer. But this Redeemer had to be true God and true man. Therefore, His conception in the Virgin Mary was supernatural, but His birth was natural.

The conception happened this way: There is a maid in Nazareth who is of “the house and lineage of David.” She is unmarried. God sends a messenger to her. This messenger tells her that she is to have a child. Amazed at this statement, she replies: “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” The messenger answers: “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: Therefore, also, that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” Thus Mary conceived, and when her time came she gave birth to the Christ.

It was God Himself Who was conceived in the Blessed Virgin. When, therefore, Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth, who was to give birth to John the Baptist, she said to her: “Whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”

We should know that the Incarnation does not consist in this that God worked in a single human form, nor that God expressed His will through a human form called Jesus, but that the Son of God with His divine essence went into the human nature. The Son of God received the human nature into His Divine Being. God assumed the human body. “The Word was made Flesh.” The human nature of Christ is, therefore, the Body of the Son of God, “for in Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.”

The Rod of Jesse is Jehovah.
He Who came from the Father is God forever.
The Son of God is Jesus of Nazareth—
Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God.

The Son of God is that Babe, born of a woman, Mary, for “When the fulness of time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the Law.”

This is the doctrine of Bethlehem, the true spirit of Christmas. The Christ-Child on Mary’s lap is perfect God and Man, the God-Man; “for God so loved the world,” the human race, that He came out of eternity into time that we might see Him and be united with Him in return, “for unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given: And the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” (The Presence, pp. 37-41)


Christine said...

We want to kneel when we express this great mystery that God became man.

And do you kneel at your church? I always make a profound bow when reciting the Nicene Creed at Mass at the words "et incarnatus est" throughout the liturgical year and Catholics genuflect at those same words during Christmas.

Lutherans with their catholic heritage should certainly feel free to do the same.

Christine said...

Oh, lest I forget, a Holy and Joyful Christmas to you and yours, Pastor, and happy Chrismas feasting to Porthos and Gimli.

Randy Asburry said...


I wish I could say that we Lutherans at my congregation do bow! But, alas, that insidious "anti-Catholic" nonsense has taken deep root. I would love to genuflect, as some of my good pastor friends do, but I'm afraid that it would cause stumbling for many of my flock. So, I make it a point to bow at that part of the Nicene Creed.

Thank you for your well-wishes ... and Porthos and Gimli thank you too! :-) May our Incarnate Savior grant you and yours a most blessed celebration of His birth, Christine!

Christine said...

So, I make it a point to bow at that part of the Nicene Creed.

Good for you! Missouri Synod pastors are in a far better position than some of the other Lutheran bodies to reclaim those beautiful catholic liturgical customs and I suspect there will be much progress made on that front in the future in the LCMS (I see much evidence of it in the new LSB).

But it takes time and education, and Lutherans are very good at educating !!

Thank you for your kind Christmas wishes. I will be gathered in spirit with you around the manger of the Holy Child!