Bride of Christ — 2006 Ornament

MARRIAGE A MYSTERY:

I was honored this year to be invited by my niece Sarah to offer the mealtime prayer at her wedding banquet.  As I thought about that prayer and about the life that she and Patrick were entering into together, thoughts about marriage came to me that eventually inspired this year’s ornament design.

 Traditionally, a just-wedded couple’s first night together centers on consummating the spiritual and familial union sealed earlier at their wedding ceremony with their first physical/sexual union. This ornament draws its lesson from this most basic of all natures innately human – sexuality.

The terms “Christmas” and “Bride of Christ” encompass elements of our struggles with both sexuality and relating to God although neither term can be found in the Bible.  Rather, each regards aspects of God’s limitless desire to engage us at our level so that He might show us the abundant life that He offers to all people.

2006 "Bride of Christ" Ornament

God gifted humans with sexuality to (1) cause and sustain “oneness” (Matthew 19: 4-6)between a man and woman who have covenanted before Him to lifelong commitment and faithfulness with each other and (2) as a fun way to make babies and proliferate humankind (Genesis 1: 28).

Sadly in today’s world, our first exposure to sex is often in the form of an abuse of His design – advertisers’ use of sex to sell everything under the sun, … casual depictions of sex in our entertainment media … porn – the number one use of the internet, … premarital sex – more common today than premarital virginity, etc., etc., etc.…

In a society obsessed with sex, avoiding temptation is hard. Men in particular but many women as well struggle with maintaining a wholesome sexual perspective. Sharing in this struggle, I’ve devoted a lot of prayer and study to this topic.  Fortunately, God meets us where we are at, uses our struggles to build character (Romans 5: 3-4) and to demonstrate that nothing can separate us from Him (Romans 8: 38-39).  In Christ alone is forgiveness and mercy (Ephesians 1:7).  So, here’s where I’ve landed so far…

While God grieves the misuse of His plan for sex (Jeremiah 13: 26-27), our powerful craving for sex is by His design and He draws on that power not only to enable successful marital relationships but to try to drive home in us His intense desire to be “known” by us at the most intimate level. Throughout Scripture, God uses the language of sex to speak to us because, quite frankly, it is a language we understand – and so does He.   (On the bottom of the ornament, I listed some of these Scriptures.  Note in each how a sexual theme is stated or implied to convey a bigger idea.)

Forgiving my bluntness, a way to depict the “act” of marriage is as a “trinity” of physical, emotional and spiritual ecstasy experienced by a man and woman exclusively committed to each other for life. Furthermore, marital sex is ordained and encouraged by God down through the ages, so much so that He admonishes husbands and wives to not “deprive” each other “except by mutual consent” (I Corinthians 7:5).

I believe that the “oneness” that Scripture declares occurs in sex is when the spirits of two people “merge” via the physical act, which is why sex is set apart in Scripture from all other human acts, why its abuse is listed high on most lists of sins, and why purity and virginity is so highly regarded by God (see Genesis 2:24 &  I Corinthians 6: 15-20).  Think about this “trinity” next time you share this joyful, timeless ritual with your spouse. Marital union is a wonderful, prayerful, God-given example, although incomplete, of what oneness with God is like.

Isn’t it just like God to use our own carnal nature to draw us to Him? (That he GAVE us by the way!) – Another illustration of how He is not a distant God but as close as, … well, I hope you get the idea.

So, you ask, how does the innocence of the Christmas story relate to this theme? Well, one way to look at Christmas is God sending His Savior Son to the world via a sexual scandal of His own making. To a nation that stoned to death women caught in the act of adultery, a girl who claims to have never “known” a man is found to be pregnant. Moreover, the explanation she gives is about an angel visiting, of God “overshadowing” her to cause conception and that the child she bears is God’s own Son!  Imagine that story leaking in today’s press!


Notes:

Label, Front of Heart: Bride of Christ; Ephesians 5: 24-27

Label, Back of Heart:

Throughout Scripture, God uses the imagery of marital intimacy to convey His desire to be cherished by us. Israel, His chosen people, is His lover in the Old Testament and the Church is His Bride in the New Testament.  Not only is God NOT embarrassed by the emotional, spiritual and physical bonds that a husband and wife enjoy together, He defers to the most intimate of all human connections to illustrate the relationship He yearns to have with us. Being “known” in the “biblical” sense was God’s idea in the first place!

Label, Bottom of Ornament (Underneath):

Then the Lord God made a woman…and he brought her to the man (Genesis 2:22).

Yet they would not listen to their judges but prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them. (Judges 2:17a)

Because Israel’s immorality mattered so little to her, she defiled the land and committed adultery with stone and wood (Jeremiah 3:9)

How delightful is your love, my sister, my bride! (Song of Songs 4:10a)

… when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, … you became mine. (Ezekiel 16:8)

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25a)

“Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” (Revelations 21:9b)

Later thoughts associated with the lesson but not the ornament: (2/15/2013)

  1. Jesus reaffirming the original design of marriage: established by God, two become one, man has not authority to separate. Divorce allowed by God as an act of mercy only because of man’s sinful “hardness of heart.” (Matthew 19: 3-8)
  2. Marriage as a mystery: Part of a teaching by Paul in his letter to the Ephesians (Ch 5: 22-33).  The “mystery” reference is in verses 31-32 is: “As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.  This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one.” (NLT)

    As noted on the ornament text, marriage is a reflection of Christ’s relationship with the church.  God’s relationship with his chosen people, Israel also mirrors this mystery. So both the old and new testaments are spanned by this idea: God/Christ as husband/groom and Israel/Church as wife/bridge.

    So, revisiting key markers of the conversation:
    • Established by God in the Garden of Eden: Then the Lord God made a woman…and he brought her to the man (Genesis 2:22)
    • Affirmed by Jesus: let no one split apart what God has joined together. (Matthew 19: 6b, NLT)
    • Explained by Paul: This is a great mystery… (Ephesians 5: 32a, NLT)
  3. For other biblical nuances of this idea, look at : As alluded in my ornament explanation, the Bible is filled with this idea. Any violation or watering down of it is entirely due to God making allowance due to man’s sinfulness and rebellion.

    Whole book examples:  Song of Solomon (expresses the romantic, passionate aspects), Hosea (expresses the faithfulness of the husband for an uncommitted and unfaithful wife).