Year End Reflections (on the Incarnation)

The following is an article I wrote for my church‘s newsletter, The Crucifer.

As we approach the end of 2013, I’m mindful of what an incredible year and semester it has been.

With Robert Finney’s leadership, our Epiphany College Community has begun to put down roots and to bear beautiful fruit. Our “alternative Eucharist” on the fourth floor has continued to deepen and expand. Our “young adult” (though I’m pretty sure I no longer rightly belong in that category!) community has brought in new friends who are tasting the love of Christ in Christian fellowship.

My wife Bouquet began a new job with Raymond James Financial / Southside Bank, and is thriving in that position. Our daughters Bella and Ellie continue to grow up into beautiful, godly big-little girls, at the wonderful All Saints Episcopal School.

And in my doctoral studies at the University of Dallas, I took a class (one of several) which I will be reflecting on for the rest of my life. The class was “Christian Epic: Dante and Milton,” in which we read Dante’s Divine Comedy (all three parts: the Inferno, the Purgatorio, and the Paradiso) and Milton’s Paradise Lost. On the latter poem Rusty Reno writes,

At the outset of Paradise Lost, Milton writes of the fallen angels. Satan, their leader, rallies his troops with a speech justifying their rebellion. Bidding their farewell to the “happy fields” now lost, Satan hails the “infernal world,” promising his followers that they, with him, might make “Heaven of Hell.”What seems a disaster can be made a victory. Satan’s reasoning is simple. “Here at last,” he says, “we shall be free.” “Here,” he continues, “we may reign secure.” The gain, then, is autonomy and self-possession. Thus, in famous words, Milton has Satan pronounce the formula of pride: “Better to reign in hell, than to serve in heaven.”[1]

“Better to reign in hell, than to serve in heaven.” Here Milton “nails” precisely the irrationality of pride. How many times and in how many ways have I, I wonder, made “autonomy and self-possession” my goal?

Thanks be to God that God the Son, the second Person of the Trinity, had in himself the opposite attitude, one of pure, self-giving, loving rationality. Thanks be to God that He knew that “it is in giving that we receive.” Thanks be to God that, unlike Milton’s Satan, he did not “consider equality with God something to be grasped,” but rather (as St. Paul continues in Philippians 2) “he humbled himself, and took on the form of a servant.”

As we celebrate this Christmastide, He did not despise the Virgin’s womb, but promoted a lowly teenage girl to the unique, exalted rank of Theotokos, “God bearer.” He took on our flesh, that he might bear our iniquities, that he might make us holy: honest, pure, unselfish, and loving.[2]

Without a doubt, we are often more like Milton’s antagonist than we are like the self-giving Lord who descends to our plight. I, for one, need more of his humility. I’m grateful for a spiritual practice which opens me up, more and more, to receive his power into my life. His power that is made perfect in weakness. His power that is fully displayed in a lowly manger surrounded by and indigent father and a humble maiden Mary.



[1]Rusty Reno, Fighting the Noonday Devil (Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s, 2011), 1.

[2] These are the “four absolutes” of the Twelve-Step Tradition developed by Bill Wilson, founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, with the help of Episcopal priest, the Rev. Samuel Shoemaker.

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