“Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” – John 20:30-31 (NASB)
We are at the time of year where many inside the Christian church turn their focus to the Incarnation. Sermons are preached on familiar texts in Matthew 1 & 2, Luke 1 & 2, and elsewhere. Ideally this should be a time of reflection for all of us and a push back against the ramped-up pace of the season. These texts help us do that.
Fast forward a few months and there will be a similar focus on Easter. I always feel that our focus on the cross during that time loses its traction quickly once Easter has passed, and we don’t reflect on the cross nearly enough throughout the rest of our year. Having intentional periods of concentration on the Incarnation and on the Cross and Resurrection are good things, especially if they stir up deeper meditation on these when the calendar has moved on.
This week I’ve begun reading a book by N.T. Wright called How God Became King. I am only one chapter in, and Wright has taken a stance that leads a bit further down the road. He reviews the ancient creeds that are so embedded in the Christian faith particularly the Apostles Creed and Nicene Creed. Wright notes that each creed moves directly from the birth of Christ to His death. There is no mention made in either creed of His life in between those two points in history. Wright likens this treatment to “…an empty cloak. The outer wrapping is there – Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection. But who is inside the cloak? What did Jesus do in between? Is there anybody there? Does it matter?”
The subtitle of Wright’s book is ‘The Forgotten Story of the Gospels’. He explains that he has had conversations with pastors and scholars who seem to have so narrowly focused on the Incarnation and Easter story that they’ve lost what’s “inside the cloak” – the gospel accounts themselves. Wright recounts that he’s asked them, “How is it that you simply treat them as somewhat random illustrative material for the thing you obviously want to focus on, the saving death and resurrection of the divine Savior?”
I have to admit I think I am prone to this as well. Book titles like The Cross of Christ and The Death of Death in the Death of Christ are on my to-read list. I also appreciate the increased focus on Christ’s Incarnation at this time of year. But Wright does make you wonder. Our ancient, foundational creeds jump over vast amounts of material in the four Gospels. Has this affected the way we view them? For all of the good that I believe comes from the increased attention to Jesus’ Incarnation and His death and resurrection at those familiar times of year, have we lost something as well?
I’m only one chapter in with Wright’s book, so I don’t know where he’s headed next. But so far he has given me much to think about as I read my Advent devotionals. What have we been missing inside the cloak?