I am hesitant ever to suggest something to a preacher in this time. It is perhaps one of the busiest times of the year, along with Holy Week. This is especially egregious, because Christmas Eve falls on Friday, allowing little time for a rebound before Sunday inexorably rolls around with the demand for another sermon and another service. Monday, December 27 may be your first chance to take a breather in some time.
If you are casting about for something in that full week between Christmas and festivities of the New Year, consider reading “On the Incarnation.” It is a little book by Athanasius, yes, that Athanasius whose name is attached to a creed. He was more likely the author of the second article of the Nicene Creed, but we will let that be. I say this because our world seems to be descending into a dark place right now. It has a certain feel like the days of Athanasius, when Gnosticism tried to redefine what a human being was, the Roman Empire persecuted Christians, inequities abounded, and everyone was terrified of death. Athanasius’ little book was written into a similar world and brought a theological response to many of these same issues. The preacher who comes to this coming year with this little book ringing in his ears will be well prepared.
Athanasius, at the age of 21 put his considerable intellect to the question of the incarnation. It was a burning issue at the time. It is hard to imagine that there were riots in some cities over the exact way to discuss to the relationship of the second and first persons of the Trinity. But there were. It was a different time. But in other ways, it was a similar time. We are facing a question of anthropology today and the Christian response to the challenges we face will need to be rooted in this incarnation just as it was for Athanasius. What is the humanity that Jesus took to himself? Is gender something we choose? Are we slaves to passions? Do people ever grow or change? Or if someone ever makes a sexist, racist, or otherwise inappropriate joke are they irredeemable? Is our sinful nature baked into the very structures of our world? If it is, what can we really do about sin? And what about this virus that threatens us? How can our thinking be clarified in this time?
These questions and more confront us today. Preacher will need to preach and the world needs what you say. Athanasius book is available for free as a pdf online. The translation is from the 1940’s, but still quite readable. If you want a book to hold or want it on your kindle, it is not expensive. I commend the more recent translation by John Behr.