In our new Advent sermon series, “Jesus is…” we want to redirect our focus from an overly simplified or sentimental explanation of Jesus back to the mystery of the the Incarnation. We found our inspiration for “Jesus Is…” in some of the commonly-held misunderstandings about the identity and nature of Jesus that popped up in the early church. The challenge for all of us is to resist the temptation to offer simple explanations that make Jesus less than who he is and to spend this Advent contemplating the mystery that Jesus is truly God with us.
The mystery of the Incarnation, God becoming a man, is almost too great to comprehend but from the very beginning Christians have attempted to understand the nature of Jesus who is both divine and human. When false beliefs about Jesus, also known as heresies, emerged in the first few centuries of the history of the Church there was often a conflict between the person with whom the false teaching originated and bishops and theologians who fought to restore a right understanding of Jesus. Last Sunday, I specifically addressed the earliest of these heresies, Gnosticism: the belief that Jesus is not completely human and preferred to live in a higher spiritual form instead of as a truly physical being.
Here is a brief description from Christian History magazine of Gnostic beliefs in the early Church and the arguments that Bishop Irenaeus of Lyons used to counter this false understanding that Jesus was less than human.