Please join us over the next several weeks as we journey through this Advent season. We will be hearing from many of our City Church staff as well as members of the congregation as we all ponder the mysteries of this season. Today’s contribution comes from our Pastor Emeritus, Rev. Jack L. Carter.
Take Up and Read
In Chapter 12 of Book eight in The Confessions of Augustine he writes of his experience of the saving power of God’s inscripturated word, the Bible. Under the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, who convicts of sin, Augustine was crying, literally, out to God for cleansing and forgiveness. And as he prayed, prone under a fig tree, he heard the voice of a boy or girl, he knew not which, coming from a neighboring house, chanting and oft repeating, “Take up and read; take up and read.” He interpreted this as a command from heaven to open the book, the Bible, and read. His eyes fell upon Romans 13:13-14: “Let us live honorably as in the day; not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” His life was never the same. That “word” entered, as he wrote, “by a light, as it were, of security into my heart—all the gloom of doubt vanished away.”
During the season of Advent we meditate upon the reality of the Incarnation, God becoming man and John’s specific use of the Greek word “Logos” to designate the second person of the Trinity. We usually translate John 1:14 as “And the Word (Logos) became flesh and lived among us.” Yet the Greek “Logos” has a wide range of possibilities for English translation. The late theologian Gordon Clark insisted that the best English word for Logos is Logic. While there is some truth in this, the Word made flesh as “Logic” always seemed a bit cold to me. Pope Benedict in 2007 wrote that one of the translations for Logos is “meaning”. He wrote, “…the eternal ‘Meaning’ of the world made himself tangible to our senses and our minds. The ‘Meaning’ knows us, calls us, and guides us.” The “Word,” “Meaning”, is not simply some universal law of logic, but rather a Person who is concerned with every individual person: He is the Son of the living God who became Man in Bethlehem.
In the Letter of Paul to the Colossians he echoes the theme of John with “…in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” 1:19 and 2:9 repeats this with, “For in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” The ancient liturgical text set to music declares, “A wondrous mystery is declared today, an innovation is made upon nature: God is made man.”
Christ Jesus is the living Word of the Father and also the Bible is the inscripturated word of the Father. The 4th Century theologian, Jerome, wrote, “When we pray, we speak to God. When we read the Bible, God speaks to us.” It was the newly resurrected Son-Word of the Father who declared to the two walking the road to Emmaus, “Then beginning with Moses and the Prophets, He interpreted to them the things about Himself in all the scriptures.” (Luke 24:27). The Bible is all about Jesus. Here we will see Him as the Light of Light, the source of intelligibility itself. In Christ, the meaning and meaningfulness of all things can be seen. And, wonder of wonders, all things now “ruined by the Fall”, can and shall be remade in Christ. A comprehensive salvation was accomplished by His coming.
Advent is the time in which we connect the two “comings” of Christ. We are living in what the Bible calls, “The last days”, the old age is passing away, but we know that the best is yet to be. In the meantime, we must not be idle. Oliver O’Donovan, British theologian, has written, “Man’s life on earth is important to God; he has given it its order; it matters that it, we, should conform to the order he has given it.”
Being a disciple of Jesus entails a number of things, but few are more important than becoming saturated with the Scriptures, the living word of God. Jesus himself lived by “every word that proceeds form the mouth of God.” We must also know that Word in order to live by it.
“Take up and read”, dear brothers and sisters. Carve out time to read the Bible, all of it, over and over. Read with prayer that we be taught by the Holy Spirit. Read with perseverance and diligence. Read with a heart to obey your great God and King Jesus. And we shall be transformed by the renewing of our minds. We shall be both informed and transformed.
I close with a testimony from the late J.B. Phillips, Anglican pastor and translator of the New Testament. He began translating in modern English in the 1940’s for his own congregation and first published what he called Letters to Young Churches, the letters of Paul. In the preface, following C.S. Lewis’ great introduction, he wrote, “Without holding fundamentalist (read, no place for the human writer) views inspiration, I am continually struck by the living quality of the material on which I am working. Some will, no doubt, consider it merely superstitious reverence for ‘Holy Writ’; yet again and again I felt rather like an electrician rewiring an ancient house without being able to ‘turn the mains off.’
God’s Word, living and powerful! Indeed!