Saturday, December 7, 2013

Advent Midweek (First Article of the Nicene Creed)

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. Tonight, we reflect on the first article of the Nicene Creed, which confesses, “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.” Dear friends in Christ: when I read the news every morning, I’m always drawn to stories that talk about faith. I’m continually fascinated by how people express their beliefs, and almost just as interested in how the media covers what they say. Most of these stories contain vague references to ‘faith,’ ‘spirituality,’ ‘the power of belief,’ or they even speak about ‘God.’ What I don’t find, however, is anything specific. We don’t learn what church they belong to, if they go to church in the first place, or what doctrines they confess. We don’t even learn what they believe about God. Each article could be summed up this way: some person gets through their struggles with a vague ‘faith’ in some sort of non-specific ‘God.’ 

This sounds great for people who want to be spiritual, not religious, who don’t want to be tied down by actually believing in anything definite, but it is hardly Christian. Christians don’t worship a ‘higher power,’ they don’t worship an all-purpose ‘god’ that anyone can understand as they want, they worship a very specific God, a God who has revealed Himself quite clearly in the pages of Scripture. They worship, in the words of the Nicene Creed, “one God.” Not a generic ‘god,’ but a specific God, the God who has revealed Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They worship a God who is Triune, three in one. We don’t understand how this can be with our reason, but we simply confess what the Scriptures teach. I’m not sure we should even use the word ‘God’ all that much. All sorts of people claim to believe in ‘God,’ but do they believe in the God confessed in the Nicene Creed, do they believe in the God who has revealed Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? What kind of God do they have—the God revealed in the Scriptures, of some other ‘god?’ Christians should never be vague when speaking about God, because our God is never vague when speaking about Himself.

The Triune God is first reveals as the Creator, the maker, as the Nicene Creed declares, “of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible.” What kind of God do we worship? We worship God the Father, who created all things. Everything has its source in the Father; nothing exists apart from Him. He spoke this universe into existence, both the things that we see with our eyes and the entire unseen realm. When you read God’s own account of His creation in the first two chapters of the Bible, what stands out is order; He sets all things in their proper places. The God that we worship is a God of order, who established the laws that govern reality, for whom all things have a purpose. We don’t worship a god who created all things and then departed, we don’t worship a god who simply wound this earth up and then left the rest to evolution, we worship the God who created all things from nothing in six literal days, and has not abandoned His creation, which He made ‘very good.’

His creation was very good, His creation was orderly, from the laws of physics to the relationship between man and woman. But chaos came into that order, the chaos of sin. Humanity spoiled and corrupted what was created very good through their disobedience, introducing conflict and disorder, the war of all against all that characterizes existence in the world to this very day. The Father’s creatures rebelled against Him, and they continue to rebel against Him. You rebel against Him. I rebel against Him. We don’t want to live according to His order. We can lament the terrible state of our world as much as we want to, but the truth is, we too are responsible for its corruption. You and I certainly aren’t making this world better, because our sin continues to ruin relationships and spoil the earth, even estranging us from God the Father Almighty. You and I are culpable; we cannot escape blame for the sorry state of our world. What kind of God do we worship? We worship a God who established His Law and sorrows as we violate it.

But the Father doesn’t abandon His creation. Remember, the God we worship is not some absentee landlord, but having created all things, having even watched with sorrow as what He made good turned to evil, God the Father plans for our salvation. Our God is the God of the prophets, the God of history; as He told Moses, He is the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. God the Father Almighty is the One who established His covenant on Mount Sinai, who worked wonders through Elijah, the God who set aside the people of Israel to be His own. The entire Old Testament is an account of the Father calling His people back to Himself. John the Baptist is the final prophet, sent to call God’s people to repentance one last time. The angel tells Zechariah about his son: “He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

Our God is the God who saw humanity in our sin and refused to leave us there to die under His just wrath. His prophets brought a message of judgment and condemnation, calling us to repentance, but they also brought a message of hope, founded on the promise of the serpent’s defeat, made by the Father just moments after the first sin. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” It was this promise of coming victory over Satan that Zechariah sang of to his eight-day old son: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David, as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant, the oath that He swore to our father Abraham.”

The Old Testament has two great themes: the preservation of the Seed and the continuation of the promise. In every generation, that Seed of a woman was threatened by enemies, by slavery, by barren wombs. And in every generation, the Triune God worked wonders to preserve His promise. Our God is the God who keeps His promises, even when all seems lost. And in each generation, God made His promise more and more specific, choosing the one through whom the promised Seed would come. Not Ishmael, but Isaac. Not Esau, but Jacob. David rather than any of his brothers, and so on through the centuries, until John the Baptist would point a trembling finger to the son of Joseph and say, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” 

God is the Father because He has a Son, and that Son is the fulfillment of all His promises. We worship the God who sent Jesus, for He is the only true God, and indeed He has in Christ brought a new creation, order once again from the disorder of sin, life in the place of death. Christmas is the Father’s plan all along, the culmination of centuries of preserving the promise and making it more and more specific. You see, our God is specific; He isn’t vague or generic in any way. The sending of Jesus on Christmas Eve isn’t a plan of salvation, it’s the plan, the only plan, for only this Jesus would travel to the cross, die and then rise again to reconcile this creation with its Creator. Zechariah sings that through Jesus, only Jesus, “The sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” So when someone asks you if you believe in God, don’t just say ‘yes;’ tell them about the God you believe in: the Father Almighty, who sent Jesus to destroy sin and death. When someone asks you if you have faith, tell them who your faith is in: the God who spoke by the prophets and now has spoken by His Son. We don’t believe in a higher power, we don’t believe in a vague deity or some generic God; we believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, who sent His Son into specific space and time for our salvation. In the Name of our Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.

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