Advent with Barth: The Virgin Womb and The Empty Tomb

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The mutual relationship between these two limits may perhaps be defined thus.

The Virgin birth denotes particularly the mystery of revelation.

It denotes the fact that God stands at the start where real revelation takes place — God and not the arbitrary cleverness, capability, or piety of man.

In Jesus Christ, God comes forth out of profound hiddenness of His divinity in order to act as God among us and upon us.

That is revealed and made visible to us in the sign of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, but it is grounded upon the fact signified by the Virgin birth, that here in this Jesus God Himself has really come down and concealed Himself in humanity.

It is because He was veiled here that He could and had to unveil Himself as He did at Easter.

The empty tomb, on the other hand, denotes particularly the revelation of the mystery. 

It denotes that it is not for nothing that God stands at the beginning, but that it is as such that He becomes active and knowable.

He has no need of human power and is free from all human caprice.

Therefore even the ultimate extremities of human existence, as He submits to them and abandons Himself to death, offer no hindrance to His being and work.

That God Himself in His complete majesty was one with us, as the Virgin birth indicates, is verified in what the empty tomb indicates, that here in this Jesus the living Go has spoken to us men in accents we cannot fail to hear.

Because He has unveiled Himself here as the One He is, we may and must say what the Christmas message says, that unto you is born this day the Savior.

The mystery at the beginning is the basis of the mystery at the end; and by the mystery of the end the mystery of the beginning becomes active and knowable.

And since this is so, the same objective content is signified in the one case by the miracle of the Virgin birth, in the other by the miracle of the empty tomb.

Once we have looked into this self-enclosed circle, we shall have to meet the attack upon the natus ex virgine (born of a virgin) with the further reflection that by it an indispensable connection is destroyed which is actually found in the creed, to that the tertia die resurrexit a mortuis (rose again from the dead), too, is actually called in question.

from Karl Barth, “The Miracle of Christmas”, Church Dogmatics I.2, page 182-183

Advent with Barth: Of Wombs and Tombs (A Brief Reflection on the Virgin Birth and Resurrection of Jesus Christ)

Second Sunday of Advent, December 9, 2018

Sally Lloyd-Jones wrote The Jesus Story Book Bible several years ago. This is a great volume for all parents who desire to teach their children about how the Bible points us to Jesus and his salvation. But when one begins to read the Bible, we immediately see that the world is different than we expect it to be. Karl Barth has said that the world we see in the Bible is “a strange, new world.” It is a world filled with God breaking into our reality doing things that are beyond the grasp and understanding of human reason. Jesus is God in the flesh, and this means that God has acted miraculously within this person.

As we look at the Christmas story, we cannot escape the miracle that is the Virgin birth. But we cannot act as if this story of a Virgin bearing a son is foreign to the Bible. The Bible is filled with stories of women, who were unable to conceive children, miraculously becoming pregnant and bearing a child of promise. In Genesis, we see Sarah giving birth in her old age to Isaac. We see Jacob’s wife, Rachel, giving birth to Joseph, who became a child of promise. So, when Mary conceives by the Holy Spirit, we should not be overcome with doubt. Instead, we should see that this is business as usual for our God.

But the Virgin womb isn’t just a miracle of biology. This is a foreshadowing of what God is truly up to. Karl Barth says that the Virgin womb of Christmas and the empty tomb of Easter are no accidents. The miracles of the Virgin Mary bearing the Christ child and the tomb from which Christ is resurrected belong to one another. These two miracles, according to Barth, show us that the existence of Christ is purposeful and not accidental. Instead, the existence of Christ begins and ends with what we experience as life and as death. We cannot understand the Virgin birth nor the resurrection fully within our reason, but we know that both point to something outside of ourselves – something greater and something more majestic than we can understand. Both point us to the reality that Christ breaks into our reality and overcomes all the limitations that sin and death impose upon us. It points us to the reality of salvation and the power of God. And as we live our lives from the womb to the tomb, we see that God can do things that we cannot ever imagine or think.

This Advent season is filled with opportunities for us to understand and realize that the “strange, new world of the Bible” does “whisper” the name of Jesus in every one of its pages as well as our lives. May we realize that from birth to death, our lives bear witness to the great miracle of life that we have in Jesus Christ. And may we live filled with the assurance that this Christ that was born from both a Virgin womb and empty tomb is all we need to encounter the world around us. Amen.

Advent with Barth: Of Wombs and Tombs

Monday, December 10, 2018

Now it is no accident that for us the Virgin birth is paralleled by the miracle of which the Easter witness speaks, the miracle of the empty tomb.

The two miracles belong together.

They constitute, as it were, a single sign, the special function of which, compared with other signs and wonders of the New Testament witness, is to describe and mark out the existence of Jesus Christ, amid the many other existences in human history, as the human historical existence in which God is Himself, God is alone, God is directly the Subject, the temporal reality of which is not only called forth, created, conditioned and supported by the eternal reality of God, but is identical with it.

The Virgin birth at the opening and the empty tomb at the close of Jesus’ life bear witness that this life is a fact marked off from all the rest of human life, and marked off in the first instance, not by our understanding or our interpretation, but by itself.

Marked off in regard to its origin: it is free of the arbitrariness which underlies all our existences. 

And marked off in regard to its goal: it is victorious over the death to which we are all liable. 

Only within these limits is it what it is and is it correctly understood, as the mystery of the revelation of God. 

It is to that mystery that these limits point — he who ignores them or wishes them away must see to it that he is not thinking of something quite different from this.

from Karl Barth, “The Miracle of Christmas”, Church Dogmatics I.2, page 182

Advent with Barth: Revelation of the Mystery

Saturday, December 8. 2018

It is the mystery of revelation that our dogma describes.

If revelation is a mystery and is understood as such, then it is at least possible in principle for the necessity of it to begin shining through.

But now we must emphasize the fact that it is the description of this mystery that is the purpose of the dogma.

Objections might, of course, be raised to what we have said up till now.

Is acknowledgment and confession of this mystery of the divine origin of the person of Jesus Christ completely tied up with acknowledgment and confession of the Virgin birth in particular?

Is the form in which we speak here of this mystery as if it were the content of it inseparable from this content, or this content from this form?

Must it not be left to Christian liberty or even to the historical judgment of the individual whether he can and will acknowledge and confess this content in precisely this form?

To this the answer is that the doctrine of the Virgin birth is merely the description and therefore the form by and in which the mystery is spoken of in the New Testament and in the creeds.

Similarly we might say that so far as the New Testament witness to Easter is the account of the empty grave, it merely describes the mystery, or the revelation of the mystery, “Christ is risen.”

It describes it by pointing to this external fact.

No one will dream of claiming that this external fact in itself and as such had the power to unveil for the disciples the veiled fact that, “God was in Christ.”

But was it revealed to them otherwise than by the sign of this external fact?

Will there be real faith in the resurrection of the Lord as revealing His mystery, as unveiling His divine glory, where the account of the empty grave is thought to be excisable as the mere form of the content in question, or where it can be left to Christian liberty to confess seriously and decisively the content alone?

With this form are we not also bound in fact to lose the specific content of the Easter message for some other truth about the resurrection?

Sign and thing signified, the outward and the inward, are, as a rule, strictly distinguished in the Bible, and certainly in other connections we cannot lay sufficient stress upon the distinction.

But they are never separated in such a (“liberal”) way that according to preference the one may be easily retained without the other.

from Karl Barth, “The Miracle of Christmas”, Church Dogmatics I.2, page 178-179