Sunday morning we gathered together for a “worship in the park” service outside of Slate. The weather was slightly uncooperative so Kolby has provided the text to his sermon in case you were not able to catch all of it.
Even without the candles lit, hopefully you still remember that we are in Advent, this time of expecting and anticipating Jesus. And I encourage you, along with Jed and Amy, not to miss this time. We are a people who love feasting and who too often skip over the fasting.
And we’ve been talking about who Jesus is, trying to get past the oversimplified image this season projects onto him and to remind ourselves of the mystery of the Incarnation–Jesus is fully God and fully man.
And in this season, our passion comes out of Philippians 3:10, which says I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection, and share in his suffering, so that I may somehow attain the resurrection of the dead. Because we want to know Christ, so that we might follow him and come to be formed into his image.
And this morning in identifying who Jesus is, we bump up against not just a heresy, but a whole other faith that ran alongside early Christianity. And that is called Manichaeism. The core belief of this cult religion was that there were two equal and opposite divine forces, a good one and a bad one, and they are locked in this eternal struggle. And we are sort of caught in the middle of that eternal struggle. Sometimes the bad side is winning and that’s when everything is awful and sometimes the good side is winning and that’s when things are going great.
In the view of Manichaeism, it’s like a cosmic tug of war. Or perhaps like a custody battle, in which the kids–all of creation–is caught up in the middle.
And of course that’s not consistent with Christian belief, but you see the appeal. It’s awfully convenient.
It’s convenient because it explains the problem of evil. How can evil exist if there’s a good god ruling over the world? Well, there’s also this bad god and they are slugging it out for all eternity. Evil isn’t complicated in this view. It’s real and it’s big and it stands directly opposed to good.
It’s also convenient because it solves our personal problem of evil. We are the passive victims of evil. Whether I am good or bad really isn’t up to me, because these forces beyond my control are snatching at me all the time.
But this seeks to make simple something a little murkier. The inconvenient truth of Christianity is that the Bible says God made all things and he called them very good. Evil isn’t original the way that God is original. St. Augustine describes evil like a headache. It hurts and it feels very real, but when a headache goes away, it doesn’t go to some land of headaches–instead, your head just returns to its normal functioning. Evil is just the bending of and distorting of goodness. The default position of the universe and everything in it is good. And we are part of that image of God.
And the bad news is that when God’s good creation is bent and distorted by sin and evil, we aren’t passive observers. We are complicit in the introduction of evil into the world. We aren’t caught in between; we are active agents. In the book of Romans, Paul describes us as enemies of God. It’s important to say out loud that in the broken relationship between God and us, we are not the victims of some cosmic struggle.
Which is why this morning we want to say in the face of Manichaeism: Jesus is all-powerful. Jesus has inhabited every aspect of human suffering and evil and he has come through the other side. The gospel of John makes it abundantly clear that the light has come into the world and when the light comes on, darkness is gone.
What does this truth mean? Well, it means we don’t have to tolerate evil. Jesus doesn’t. He comes across people who are possessed or sick or in some sort of pain and he doesn’t just shrug and say, “Well, that’s just the way it is sometimes.” No, he brings healing and restoration. We are allowed to look at sin and suffering and even death and say–”No, I don’t accept that this is a normal, good part of creation.” We rage against it, work to get rid of it and anticipate Jesus’ return in which he will complete the restoration of his creation.
And the equal truth is that we don’t have to be happy or without pain or without sin to be in the presence of God. That doesn’t put us over in the bad god’s camp and the good God hasn’t broken through there yet. Because Jesus went to the cross, we are close to God in exactly those most difficult moments.
Jesus Christ is fully God, fully man and he is all-powerful. He is bigger, he is more substantial, he is more original than any evil or suffering that you can be confronted with and because of that he isn’t just a good guy, or a team worth rooting for. He’s worthy of our worship. When we look at Jesus, we are looking at the embodiment of reality, the author of creation–there is no other power or authority on heaven or on earth that can confront the reality of Jesus.
And yet this season we search for this power in a manger. Power that is humble, power that is found among the weak, power that pours itself out.
This week and in this season may we be called to embody the reality and power of Jesus Christ by modeling his humility, his sacrifice and his love. Amen.