Monday, December 10, 2012

Advent: When Christ Comes to the Individual

The following post is taken from a written sermon by T.F. Torrance (reference below).

“Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
This is the answer Mary gave when the angelic messenger, Gabriel, announced that she was to be the virgin-mother of Jesus. For Torrance, this great miraculous sign is placed at the beginning of the life of Jesus as a sign of the way God’s love has taken in Christ, not only for Mary, but for each of us.

Though the Holy Child was born through the womb of Mary, notes Torrance, “[Jesus] came as a pure gift from God outside the range of human possibilities and above and beyond all human powers.” Apart from divine intervention, nothing the young Virgin could have done would have wrought this great miracle in her life. As Torrance notes, the coming of Jesus into the life of Mary was not the result of a decision on her part, for the decision had already been made by God. To be sure, God’s gracious decision was “announced” to the Virgin by the angel; Mary simply replied, ““Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.”  As Torrance notes, “[Mary] acknowledged the decision that had already been made on her behalf; she let the Word of God happen to her, and Jesus was born of her from above” (emphasis added).
For Torrance, this is the good news of Advent: “that we too are highly favoured of God.” God has already made a decision on our behalf, that we are to be his children and that Jesus Christ is our Saviour. That decision has already been made for us and is announced to us in the gospel. To further illustrate his point, Torrance turns to the story of Zacchaeus, a callous-hearted extortioner who was so enslaved to his own selfishness and greed that he was not free to make any “decision” to follow Jesus, even if he wanted to. Yet, the Advent of Jesus took Zacchaeus by surprise when Jesus announced, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house” (Luke 19:5). As Torrance argues, Jesus had already decided to enter the home and life of Zacchaeus; thus, for the first time, Zacchaeus found himself free to follow Jesus, “free and able to have Jesus in his home and heart.” As Torrance notes, “[Zacchaeus] was able to make a decision for Christ, because Christ had already made a decision on his behalf.”
This is how the miracle of Advent still functions in the heart of humanity. God set the miracle of the Virgin birth at the beginning of the gospel to show us the way God’s love takes when confronted by our human weakness and frailty. As Torrance notes, Mary’s answer to the annunciation is “an example of the way we are to respond to God’s pure gift of grace in Jesus Christ”: “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.”
According to Torrance, God’s Word announces to us the good news of our “destiny in the divine love, and it is ours to let ourselves be told by God’s Word, and to let His Word happen to us.” When announced to us, the gospel tells us that, long before we can do anything about it, even before we can know about it, “God has set his love upon us and chosen us in Jesus Christ to be His own.” We cannot “constitute ourselves Christians” by our own choice, Torrance argues, but, rather, we must flee from our own decision in order to take refuge in God’s gracious decision on our behalf in Jesus Christ. It is God’s faithfulness and decision on our behalf that undergirds our feeble decisions and enfolds them in his own. As Torrance notes, the entirety of our salvation depends on the faithfulness of God.
Torrance goes on to note that Jesus came into the world as “an individual to an individual in Mary,” and it is in this same individual way that he comes to everyone. In the Christian faith, we do not have to do with “God in general,” but with the personal God who comes in the particular individual, Jesus Christ, “so that in and through Jesus we are each summoned to meet with God individually, and to hear from Him the Word of His love.” Only in Jesus can we hear God’s decision of love for each of us.
Moreover, just as Jesus came into the world as an individual, he will come again as an individual, and “[e]ach one of us will have to meet Him individually face to face,” notes Torrance. This is the same Jesus about whom the old Simeon foretold, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against” (Luke 2:34), a prophecy which history has proven true, Torrance observes. He continues:
All men are divided, they are cast down or raised up by God, in accordance with their reaction to the child of Bethlehem. And at the second Advent of this same Jesus all men will finally be divided and judged by the answer which each has given to the Gospel first announced to Mary and then proclaimed to all who have ears to hear.
And what is the Gospel, asks Torrance? “[B]ut this, that God loves every one of us.” He continues:
He loves us so much that He has given His only Son to be our Saviour. Long before we were even born God had already made that gracious decision about us in Jesus Christ. May our answer be that of Mary: “Be it unto me according to thy word.”
Torrance, T.F. 1957. “When Christ Comes to the Individual.” In When Christ Comes and Comes Again. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, pp. 31-38.
See also T.F. Torrance: The Vicarious Humanity of Jesus Christ, pt 5 @


  1. fantastic post Martin! Most helpful for Advent 4 preparations.


    1. Thanks Mike,
      Always good to hear from my fellow Anglican "down under."


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