Jesus, Our Sublime Savior
The Sublime Christ
Beyond creeds and the doctrine of the incarnation, our soul longs to encounter Jesus, our sublime savior. This little one presenting the world with the paradox of being fully God and fully man, yet born of the virgin Mary. The Light of the world born in the dark of night, robed in the love that conquers all.
Even as we strive to comprehend, it overwhelms our senses until we, like Isaiah are “undone” (Isaiah 6:5) because we have awakened to the reality that we have been brought into the very presence of God. God is with us! First in the tabernacle as Immanuel, then as Jesus in the manger, and now in our hearts through the Holy Spirit inhabiting these temples we call bodies.
Consider the words of Malcolm Guite in this sonnet, as he ponders the mystery of all we owe to this God who loves us:
I cannot think unless I have been thought
Nor can I speak unless I have been spoken;
I cannot teach except as I am taught,
Or break the bread except as I am broken.
O Mind behind the mind through which I seek.
O Light within the light by which I see,
O Word beneath the words with which I speak,
O founding, unfound Wisdom, finding me,
O sounding Song whose depth is sounding me,
O Memory of time, reminding me,
My Ground of Being, always grounding me,
My Maker’s bounding line, defining me:
Come hidden Wisdom, come with all you bring,
Come to me now, disguised as everything.
– Malcolm Guite (From His book Sounding the Seasons)*amazon link*
Wrapped in the paradox of a God who becomes a man, a virgin who gives birth, and the King of all Kings who humbles himself into the likeness of a servant. All of this, for you and me? All of this, driven by pure love. What could be more sublime, more beautiful, more overwhelming.
Re-Defining the Sublime
For most of history, the term sublime referred to the highest form of beauty, which gave us the greatest pleasure, and served as signpost for the beauty and glory of God. This definition is what you might find in Webster’s Dictionary. For thousands of years, it was obvious to people that the beauty we encounter on earth, mirrors the beauty of God Himself.
Sadly, art schools and philosophers contemplating aesthetics have abandoned this idea, trading it in for the godless machinations of Immanuel Kant. This is because Kant declared that beauty points to nothing, and insisted that the overwhelming experience of the sublime was nothing more than our mind and reason recognizing the inability of our senses to comprehend the scope and scale of beauty (or terror) at such proportions. This is because the sheer overwhelming nature of something sublime is too great for our senses to comprehend.
While Kant had many great insights and contributions to philosophy, this idea has done tremendous damage to the western view of art, beauty, and the Christian faith. He attacked the very connection between the beauty of creation and the beauty of our Creator, insisting it never existed.
Ben Quash of King’s College in London addresses this so well, I need not try to restate the issue, but if you want to learn more, his writing is available on the website of the Tate Museum HERE. The good news is that despite Kant’s misleading aesthetic claims, the human heart ‘knows’ the truth (Romans 1) – that the sublime is an aesthetic north star that points to The Beautiful One, Christ the King. Jesus, the Sublime One, is beauty in word, deed, thought, and sacrifice. This is the sublime beauty our culture is starving for and longing to recover. It is also what Christians engaged in art must help our culture to rediscover.
Sublime Beauty in Story
There is no story more sublime, nor any character more sublime than God. A story that began in a humble garden, and ends in an elegant city, endures heartache and joy as part of the journey. In this story we find a sublime beauty of hope beyond death, the light that overcomes darkness and the beauty that bursts forth from the ashes.
These stories move our hearts, bringing us to tears because our very soul aches for the truth hidden in these stories. The films, novels and theatre plays we so dearly love today, are but echoes of what C.S. Lewis called “The True Myth.” For the Gospel is the story that grips our imagination because it is so deep and profound, so drenched in grace for wretched souls like ours that it scarcely seems real. Though it lures our heart toward such a loving God, we struggle with unbelief at such extravagant and never-ending love.
It would be easier to dismiss such grand love and sacrifice as mere myth or fairytale, but the aroma of Christ pierces our senses with a truth we cannot deny. Like Peter, tempted to leave as we may be, all Christ’s disciples will finally admit to ourselves and to Jesus, “where else would we go. YOU, Jesus, have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68). To be loved by God is the longing of every myth, and every fairytale. To know God is to find the sublime true myth, as C.S. Lewis would say.
Sublime Beauty of Holiness
The primary place we see the sublime in the Bible is when men and women encounter the holiness of God. “Please, show me your glory,” (Exodus 33:18) Moses pleaded with Yahweh. God was gracious to let him see his backside, after He had passed by, but made it clear, “You cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” (Exodus 33:20).
To be in the presence of God is to begin to encounter His Holiness, and the sublime beauty of His character and goodness. Until we have glorified bodies in the resurrection, we cannot handle such an experience. This is why Isaiah in the Temple (Isaiah 6), declared that he was ‘undone’ in the presence of God. And yet, God humbled himself so drastically, that he became one of us, and wrapped himself in flesh like ours, so that we could begin to comprehend His love, His faithfulness, and His Grace. We could not enter heaven with the sinful hearts we possess, and so God brought heaven down, in the form of this baby.
To encounter this child, was to catch a glimpse of love itself, and a glimpse of the face of God. For those with eyes to see, the face of this baby was a window to the sublime beauty of the character of God. We have a foretaste, which was meant to whet our appetite for life with God in the New Jerusalem.
Sublime Beauty of Sacrificial Love
While the world seeks power, and self-protection, this incarnate one seeks humility and love that leads to sacrifice. While the world understands power, war, and fighting, this God-man pursues forgiveness, sacrifice and love. It is the very thing we all crave, and yet the thing we have ‘learned’ not to believe in. Our cynicism, bitterness and fear tell us that such love and beauty cannot be found. And yet we know that if it were found, it would be the undoing of our sin and shame.
No wonder, that when we first put our faith in Christ, it transformed our lives. This is what it means to fully encounter the Jesus who washes our feet and then dies for our sins. This is where we find the overwhelming grace, and the forgiveness for great sinners. It is the one place we finally experience the transformation we long for, as Christ takes our filthy rags and exchanges it for His righteous robe of pure white .
A Sublime Experience of Christmas
Christmas is not supposed to be quaint, sweet or mushy. Let us not be like those who have nostalgic ideas of a sweet baby Jesus who remains in the manger. Let us not be like those who have sentimental ideas of a sweet and tender Jesus who seems like a saccharine sweet word turned into a living teddy bear instead of the Word of God made Flesh. No. This we must reject.
He did not come to make us feel nice. He did not come to make us feel warm and cozy over a fire. He came to rock our hearts and souls down to the core so that He can rebuild our very hearts and souls into the image of Jesus. He came to take our hearts of stone, and to give us hearts of flesh. For now, he is making you and I into His likeness and our bodies are the very temple of the Holy Spirit. We need not be taken away into the temple of God like Isaiah, for God himself has made his home in our bodies, which are His temples. If we fail to understand this, we will miss the joy, peace and beauty we were meant to experience.
Come to Jesus, not to stir up fond memories of nativity scenes at Christmas, but to be undone, to be transformed, and to be made whole. And then may you and I be filled with great longing for the day we will walk the streets of gold, in the most sublime city every built – dripping with beauty so extravagant it is unimaginable, to our eyes, our ears, and all our senses. This is the city we were made to live in, when at once we are given bodies that can endure such a sublime existence – in the presence of the Shining and Sublime one – Christ the King!
May the lights at Christmas
point you to the light that pierces and overcomes darkness.
May the joy of Christmas
whet your appetite for the joy of living in the New Jerusalem.
May the sorrow at Christmas
Remind you that the story if not over, and Christ will come again.
May the Fellowship at Christmas
Lift your spirits and create a deeper longing for fellowship with God in the New Year!
Let us know how Jesus is your sublime savior in the comments below.
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Copyright © 2021 Joel & Michelle Pelsue. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.