(*My father wrote this rather intriguing piece in 1963 as a reflection on becoming a Canadian citizen. It speaks to today's political and sociological situation. I included it as an appendix to the biography I wrote on my father,)
Incarnation, Immigration, and Integration
Being born of Mary, God’s Son became a real human being, a true member of the human race, a son of Adam taking his place in the lineage and in the history of Adam’s descendants.
Mankind’s history is a terribly troubled history. It is a history of sin, unbelief, idolatry, lying, hatred, and murder. It is an awful thing to be a man and to belong to the human race—not only because we suffer under the unrighteousness and hatred of mankind, but also, and primarily, because, as human beings, we are accountable for the sin of the whole human race. Mankind’s history is our history and our past.
We tend to consider ourselves apart from the generations who lived and worked and sinned before us. “What do we have to do with their history?” we ask. But think of Daniel: He had read in Prophecy of Jeremiah that seventy years were to pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem. These years had passed and Daniel beseeched God to fulfill his promise by bringing his people back to Canaan and Jerusalem. But Daniel began his prayer with a stirring confession of sins. “…we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land” (Dan. 9:5,6).
How could Daniel pray and confess his sins in this way? He was still young when he, as a prisoner, was brought to Babylon. You remember that he was still a boy when he was chosen to be educated for the king’s service, and how he proved to be faithful to God’s commandments. Nonetheless, after having finished his prayer he said, “I was confessing my sin and the sin of my people (Dan. 9:10).
He confessed the sins of the fathers to be his sins and those of his people. He acknowledged that their past was his past, that their history was his history. He took the whole history of Israel into consideration. The LORD had given wonderful gifts, especially the gift of his prophets whom God had sent to speak his Word. But Israel had repeatedly refused to give heed to their preaching. That was what led Daniel to confess, “We have sinned—I and my fathers. O God, forgive us!”
As a human being, a member of the human race, I am involved with and a part of its history. We are confronted with its past and the LORD says, “It is also your history.”
What shall we think of, and what shall be our attitude towards the past of Canada and the history of the Canadian nation? We, or our parents, immigrated to Canada. By immigrating to Canada and choosing to live here we made a decision about our future and the future of our children and grandchildren. But it did not only affect our future. By immigrating to Canada we also brought about a change to our past and to the past of our descendants. By leaving “the old country” as emigrants we were broken off its tree and by immigrating to Canada we were engrafted into the Canadian tree. We are incorporated in and integrated with the whole of the Canadian nation. Its past has become our past, its history our history. At school our children are taught Canadian history as the history of the nation to which they now belong. This is a fact, one we must wholeheartedly accept. God does not consider us apart from the Canadian people. We are responsible for their past, their history. God holds us accountable for it. We are liable for the sins, the trespasses, and the unrighteous deeds done in the history of this our country and of this our people.
This is a terrible responsibility, one which we, ourselves, cannot bear. There is no acceptable excuse that we and the whole Canadian nation could give to render us innocent before God. And so it is pure gospel that the Son of God took upon himself the very nature of man from the flesh and blood of the woman Mary. He truly was incorporated into the human race. He did so by his own free will. In doing this he took upon himself all the sins and trespasses and misery of the whole human race, making himself liable also for the history and the past of the Canadian nation.
That historical fact gives us the courage and boldness to accept the Canadian nation with all its history and past, and to accept responsibility for it.
The Son of God was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. His was a holy conception and his a holy birth. From the first moment of his existence as a member of the human race Mary’s Son was holy and righteous. He was not a partaker of Adam’s disobedience, nor did he live in the sins of his ancestors. That is why he could bear their sins and pay for them.
The Lord Jesus said to the Pharisees and scribes, “…on you [will] come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar” (Matt. 23:35).
Cain murdered Abel because his brother was righteous and walked with the Lord. Zechariah was murdered because he was a faithful prophet. The murder of Zechariah is mentioned in the Chronicles, which then was the last book of the Old Testament. Much innocent blood was shed from the beginning to the end of Old Testament times. The scribes and Pharisees were quick to say, “We did not do it. It does not concern us.”
Jesus said, “You did it! You murdered all the innocents from Abel to Zechariah.” They did the same terrible thing. They were about to murder the Innocent One, the Chief Prophet and Teacher. By killing the Innocent One they agreed with Cain’s murder and took upon themselves the sins and transgressions of their ancestors.
How shall we now think about Canada’s history and its past? With indifference? As an outsider? We cannot do so. It is our past. With our own lying, and stealing, and hatred, and murder, we agree with the very same sins of our ancestors, and we take upon ourselves the unrighteousness of our Canadian ancestors.
But how can it be, that we should ever accept the history of the Canadian nation as our history? We can only do so because of the historical fact of Jesus having been conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He also took upon himself the unrighteousness of the Canadian nation, but as the holy and Innocent One, as God’s only-begotten Son.
We are protected from God’s wrath only by the innocence which Christ, in his grace, shares with all who are in communion with him. We are acquitted from the unrighteous deeds which permeate the history of the nation to which we belong, in which we share, and in which we continue, only by the righteousness of Christ. And so we can pass judgment on Canada’s history. Not with the indifference of a stranger. Not with the aloofness of a European. Much less with the pride of a Calvinist. But, rather, humbly and courageously as people comforted in Christ.
Because of his holy conception and birth of Mary, David’s daughter, he is also the true seed of David, establishing God’s redeeming and saving kingdom also in the history of the Canadian nation. By his innocence, in which he steadfastly continued by obediently humbling himself unto death on the cross, we receive the privilege of serving him as our King, and of proclaiming and manifesting his blissful kingship in every sphere of life. Thus we have been chosen to accept Canada’s past also in this respect: that under the royal dominion of Christ we may continue to exhibit the righteous deeds of our Canadian ancestors, in the present time and in the time to come.
And so it is with boldness and courage, with comfort and joy, that we find and take our place in the course of Canada’s history—as it was in the past, is in the present, and will be in the future. Our immigration and our integration is sanctified by the incarnation of the Son of God who, being conceived by the Holy Spirit, became the Son of Mary, Adam’s daughter and David’s descendent.
Jules T. van Popta, December, 1963.