Angels and men agree,
To praise in songs divine
The incarnate Deity,
Our God contracted to a span,
Incomprehensibly made man.”
I don’t know about you, but the Christmas vacation period is one of the few precious times in the year when I can really stop and draw breath. Carve out a space for rest. And do some sustained reflection on the year that has been, as well as think and pray about the year ahead. Admittedly, it’s also a time when I hit the beach, go surfing with my girls, languidly avoid the heat of the day with my summer reading, quaff the world’s best espresso-double-shot thickshakes (in Bodalla, in case you’re wondering), and strum my couch guitar in the hope of writing the great Australian Christ-honouring indie dream-pop anthem.
It’s also a chance for reflection on the year that has passed at St Mark’s. This year has certainly been one of significant change with the departure of our faithful director of nine years, Andrew Cameron. We transferred popular VET-sector/RTO courses (such as the Graduate Certificate in Professional Supervision) to our suite of courses offered in partnership with Charles Sturt University. We also recently farewelled our dedicated RTO manager, Andrew Shiells. And we all continue to face the challenges of higher cost-of-living and pressures on the university and theological sectors, while we grieve and pray for our good but broken and divided world with its myriad wars and injustices.
While this year has had its share of challenges, it has also brought opportunities. The joyful and devoted scholarly Christian community that is St Mark’s can look over the year with thankfulness for the many blessings we have received. The interregnum has seen our team pull together with renewed purpose and vigour. Around 50 public events—public lectures, film and theology nights, book launches, late night library openings, and seminars—have brought many within the orbit of theological teaching and research that is hospitable, practical, centrally orthodox, biblically based and intellectually rigorous. Our faculty have published numerous academic books and articles, popular pieces, and contributions to Australian public life on a range of media platforms. We’ve seen scores of students deepen their walk with God and their vocations through our courses in theology, ministry formation, pastoral counselling, and professional supervision.
We’re also grateful for the generosity of our volunteers and council; and supporters and former students: like Mark Relton who earlier this year left a bequest of $1.3 million to St Mark’s; or another long-time subscriber to St Mark’s Review whose family recently informed me of his kind bequest of $10,000. While much more is needed to resource adequately the mission of St Mark’s, these gifts have been a great encouragement and a reminder of the generosity, through His people, of the generous God who can do more than we could ever ask, think, or imagine.
The Christmas season also shifts our gaze to something far greater than our own limited horizons and stories—with all of their real stresses, joys and aspirations—to the truth, beauty, and goodness of the divine story of love and redemption through Jesus Christ. At least for me, nothing does this better than Christmas hymns. One of my all-time favourites is Charles Wesley’s majestic Let Earth and Heaven Combine. The opening stanza is quoted at the beginning of this post. “Let earth and heaven … angels and men’ praise,” Wesley rhapsodises, “[t]he incarnate Deity, / Our God contracted to a span, / Incomprehensibly made man.”
Contracted to a what? Wesley is referring to an old-fashioned form of measurement—roughly 30cm in today’s measure. Christ, the eternally existing, omnipresent, and inconceivably powerful second person of the Trinity, enters human existence in the form of a 30cm (ish) newborn baby. To be sure, He retains His ‘Deity,’ Wesley hastens to add, as the Word (logos) through whom the universe was created and in whom it holds together (Hebrews 1:2).
Wesley adds that this is ‘incomprehensible.’ And so it should be—perhaps as equally incomprehensible and scandalous as God living a perfect human life and dying a brutal death for the forgiveness and redemption of humankind. We in theological education know that we should never stop seeking to comprehend the incomprehensible. And here we can take to heart Wesley’s reminder that this is no remote deity we seek, but rather “our God” and loving creator.
It is my prayer and hope that as we pause to celebrate Christmas and take stock of our year, we might, with the help of the Holy Spirit, kindle afresh a flame of awe, wonder, and love for “our God contracted to a span.”
Christmas blessings to you and yours from all of us at St Mark’s.
For more info on St Mark’s, our courses, and upcoming events, go to: https://stmarks.edu.au/
Michael Gladwin, St Mark’s Acting Director