We are now coming to the closing weeks and months of 2016. The IPHC has spent this year focusing on our foundational raison d’etre: holiness. We were founded in 1898 as one of numerous revivals, movements, and denominations birthed from a revival of holiness, particularly Wesleyan holiness. Our understanding of holiness flowed from Scripture, John Wesley, and writers and preachers in the late nineteenth-century holiness revival.
We have additional resources at iphc.org/holiness. I encourage you to visit this site and take time to read the PDF of N.J. Holmes’ God’s Provision for Holiness. Written in the early twentieth century, Holmes writes as one sanctified during this period.
As we come to the end of 2016, with Advent and Christmas in mind, I offer a few thoughts on holiness for 2017 as we prepare to focus on our fourth core value: We Prayerfully Value Christ’s Kingdom.
St. Luke’s account of the advent of the Messiah is unique among the four Gospels. Within the narratives of the birth of John the Baptist and Jesus, Luke includes two poems/songs incorporating Old Testament themes. I think of these as introductory psalms to the advent of the Messiah. They are New Covenant psalms, rooted in God’s purposes in Israel, finding their miraculous fulfillment in the wombs of two women.
The first woman, representing the Old Covenant, is Elizabeth. She is an older woman, who like Sarah nearly 2,000 years earlier, is thought beyond the age of conception (see Genesis 17, 18, 21). The second woman, representing the New Covenant, is Mary, a young woman—the virgin prophesied in Isaiah 7:14 some 700 years earlier, and unmarried. The older woman carries the scandal of childlessness; the younger carries the scandal of a child conceived by someone other than her betrothed husband.
The older woman’s life proclaims the power of Israel’s God to break through human emptiness, barrenness and unfruitfulness. The younger woman’s life proclaims the power of Israel’s God to transcend human sinfulness and social custom.
Unlike the ridicule they encountered (and that women continue to encounter today), God speaks blessings to these women. The men in their lives come to discern, respect and protect the power of God at work in these women.
While numerous themes from the Old Testament are named in these psalms, my focus is on how holiness is reflected in both of them.
The first psalm is in Luke 1:46–55 and is from the lips of the Virgin Mary. Earlier the angel Gabriel appeared to her with the announcement that she would be overcome and overshadowed by the Holy Spirit (1:35) who supernaturally caused conception of a baby in her womb. Gabriel informed Mary about Elizabeth, who was already six months pregnant (1:36). Mary recognized the miracle quality of that announcement and responded with faith to the angelic message (1:38).
Mary’s visit to Elizabeth confirmed the double miracle occurring in their lives (see Luke 1:39–45). Elizabeth’s praise response is one of confirming blessing, and affirming the power of believing what God has spoken (1:45).
It is in response to Elizabeth’s confirmation and affirmation that Mary breaks forth in the psalm called The Magnificat, (Luke 1:46- 55). Though Mary acknowledged her unique status of blessing, her psalm is a litany of praise to the Lord.
The New King James Version uses the personal pronoun He or His fifteen times in her reference to the Lord God of Israel-God is mighty and merciful; He has shown strength, put down the mighty, filled the hungry, and helped Israel. God has done all of this in accordance to covenant promises made “to Abraham and his seed forever” (1:55).
Mary’s reference to holiness is related to God’s mighty nature enabling Him to do great things beyond human comprehension (Luke 1:49). Divine transcendence, above and beyond the sin-stained condition of humanity, is able to penetrate this darkened world with light, life and redemption. Mary’s faithful response to receive the blessing and nurture the blessing is rooted in the holy power of Israel’s God.
The second psalm, known as The Benedictus, is proclaimed by Elizabeth’s husband Zacharias (Luke 1:67–79). The aged priest responded to the miracle of his son’s conception and birth by affirming God’s holy faithfulness through the prophets and the covenant with Abraham (1:70, 72, 73).
The proper response to such a display of holy faithfulness is that “we might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our lives” (1:74–75).
Note that the word translated holiness in Luke 1:75 is not the usual Greek word hagios. Rather, it is hosiotes and describes personal piety reflecting holy transformation in the heart and life towards God. The same word is used in Ephesians 4:24:
“That you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness (hosiotes).”
Elizabeth’s child John is the prophet announcing the One in Mary’s womb who is Author of the new creation (Hebrews 12:2; 2 Corinthians 5:17).
Jesus is the One who brings the Kingdom of God in human flesh into the midst of the kingdoms of this world. Sanctification, holiness, piety, justice and righteousness embodies and points to His holy kingdom which shines forth, as we live in this present darkness.
As you celebrate the coming of the Christ Child during the Christmas season, I pray you will be filled with wonder—and that you will experience a renewed desire to serve Him in holiness.
This article was published in the November/December 2016 issue of Encourage.