Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Image of the Unseen

I have in my office many, many things on the walls. I have degrees and an ordination certificate and Luther's Sacristy Prayer and some photos... I have organ pipes and personal photos of my family... I have a dozen or so crucifixes (nearly all high quality hand carved wood from Italy and my prized one from Oberammergau)... I have a couple of original paintings (Noah and the ark and one of an American highway scene)... I have several posters (Birgitta and one called Sing Me to Heaven)... I have resin castings (can't afford the real thing) of stone carvings of Mary, of the Risen Jesus, of Jesus as Priest with bread and cup, of Celtic crosses... And I have a ton of icons (okay, well not a ton but lots and lots). One in particular is a sterling silver icon from Romania (the Holy Family, an icon crucifix and traveling icon, and most especially, an icon stitched for me by my colleague (the Asst. Pastor)... Most of them were gifts... the vast majority... some I have purchased...

I am surrounded by images and it is a glorious setting for me to study, to hold meetings, to have private conversations, to do premarital counseling, to listen as Pastors do to the hearts of people wounded and sore from life's battles... But I am also surrounded by churches in the South who number the commandments so that they include "Thou shalt not have any graven images" as one of the big 10. Some of these preachers are visibly uncomfortable when stopping into my office.

As Advent approaches I think often of that little line in Scripture... Colossians 1:15... Christ is the image of the invisible God... or as one translation puts it: Christ is the visible representation of the invisible God... As we approach the Manger in remembrance of Jesus, God's Son and Mary's, laid there so long ago, I am reminded that the only in Christ has God revealed Himself. In Him alone God shows Himself to be seen: who was begotten of the Father before anything was made, that is, from everlasting... this mighty and eternal One now shows Himself in the face of a child.

This is the great mystery of the Incarnation that we prepare to observe -- God was in Christ showing us His face... showing us Himself... and apart from Christ, this God remains hidden and unrevealed. That is a great and profound truth. Somehow it is our task to remember this amid all the Christmas shopping, baking, partying, etc. Christ is the image of the unseen God and only in Christ does this God reveal Himself to us.

I have been doing some Advent reading in Solrunn Nex The Mystical Language of Icons and he says: It is the mystery of the Incarnation itself which is a major argument for iconography and which legitimises the portrayal of the divine. From Hebrews we read: ... He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature... When Moses asked to see the splendor of God's face, he was told "No, you cannot see my face for no one shall see me and live..." (Ex. 33:20. Until the coming of Christ, St. John can say No one has ever seen God. The only Son who is in the bosom of the Father, He has revealed him... And then Jesus Himself weighs in on it with the blunt statement: Whoever has seen Me, has seen the Father... (John 1:18; 14:9)

As a result of the Incarnation of our Lord, matter (specifically human flesh) has become able to carry the divine. Through Christ's Incarnation, God took part in human nature so that man could take part in divine nature. God has voluntarily transcended His own prohibition and allowed Himself to enter and be limited by time and space, flesh and blood, to make Himself and His salvation accessible to us. The invisible God now has a face` -- the face of His Son. Sitting here among so many images that truth really hits you square in the head sometimes... Today was one of them...

1 comment:

Canadian said...

I was exploring Eastern Orthodoxy in the last couple years, and this is stressed greatly there. I didn't realize Confessional Lutherans were this established in the ancient church's Christology. Iconoclasm is a reaction against proper Christology as is a memorial view of the holy Supper. I really appreciate reading your sacramental, liturgical, and Christ laden posts. I do see however that you backed off a little in your quote of Athanasius and other father's that God became man that man might become God. But as you say, humanity actually partaking of divinity is what the father's meant anyway. Thanks so much.