Musings on the Incarnation
Every year the world–and the church—experience Christmas, that curious amalgam of paganism, consumerism, and Christianity which western civilization has invented to tide it over the darkest days of the winter. It would be easy to be critical, offended and condescending to the culture. However, this festive season has one advantage, it reminds the public of at least the name and the fact of Jesus Christ. The pity is that men seldom go beyond that and that the church itself appears content to leave the supreme mystery of its faith only vaguely hinted at in the glitter and gaiety of what it calls its greatest festival. Christmas is a lost opportunity, a time when the world invites the church to speak and she blushes, smiles and mutters a few platitudes which the world already knows from its own stock of clichés and nursery rhymes. The question is still worth asking. What is the Christmas event which everyone hints at but no one talks about? The answer of course is the Nativity; and the significance of that is defined for us by the Apostle John in chapter one, verse 14, “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth”.
So Christmas is the church’s annual observance of the miracle of the incarnation. God has come to us in the person of Jesus Christ. God became fully human without ceasing to be fully God. What difference does it make that Jesus is not just a human being but God Himself? What practical difference does it make that Jesus was not simply a divine being but a real human being? Let us think about the ramifications of this.
Jesus is God Himself
First, if Jesus is God, it is not enough simply to believe in Him or even to obey Him. He is to be worshiped, adored, savored and rejoiced in. We are to behold and be awed by His beauty and His glory. Since Jesus is God He should be the ultimate beauty and satisfaction of our hearts. Second, since Jesus is God He must be given the central priority and preeminence in our lives. Since Jesus claims to be God He cannot be ignored or dismissed. This is a polarizing statement. If He is not God He should be mocked, ridiculed and dismissed. If He is God we should listen to Him and fall at His feet in worship.
Third, since Jesus is God His salvation is of infinite value. The blood He shed as a ransom to pay for our sins has the value of the blood of God. Imagine that value. He is able to save us to the uttermost. No sin is too great for Him to forgive. No corruption of ours is to vile to be healed. Fourth, since Jesus is God He alone can bring rest and assurance to our defiled consciences. Since Jesus is God then our salvation is by grace alone. Every other religious founder is a human being claiming to be sent by God to tell us what we must do to be saved and find acceptance. But Jesus is God Himself coming to rescue from a pit we could never climb out of. If we could save ourselves by our own performance then God would only need to inform us and model for us what we need to do to obtain salvation. His coming means that our salvation rests entirely upon His doing for us what we could never do for ourselves. Since Jesus is God coming to save us we should be lost in wonder, love and praise.
Jesus Is a Real, Fully-human Being
First, if God became fully and truly human we have a remarkable resource with which to face pain and suffering. The Bible never answers the question regarding the why of our suffering. But the incarnation gives us the resources in our suffering that is of much more value than an explanation. God came into our world, became vulnerable to suffering and died Himself. He is Immanuel, i.e. God with us. He gives us His personal presence in our suffering. He knows what it is like to experience hunger, danger, injustice, rejection, torture, suffering, abandonment and death. Second, if God became fully human then matter matters. God in the person of Jesus Christ assumed a physical body in order to redeem the material world that He created as good. The incarnation does not deal only with lost souls but the entirety of the created order. When Luther was asked what he would do if he knew he was going to die tomorrow he replied, “I would plant a tree”. He understood the implications of the incarnation and that the redemption God in Christ achieved is cosmic and holistic. Finally, if Jesus is God Himself become human, we have an infallible hope. Some day all deformity, disease, decay, sin and imperfection will be wiped away. Jesus is God and the incarnation means that God has landed. Jesus is fully man and that tells us God knows and cares for us and our future. God has become human; the ideal has penetrated the real and is transforming it into His likeness. We are destined for joy. Christmas is our time to celebrate and to tell the world that there is hope. Though this world is broken, and things are not the way they are supposed to be, and though shalom has been seriously vandalized, it is not the final word. The counter-offensive has been launched. The transforming, healing, redeeming power of the kingdom of God has been let loose in the first coming of God the son. In the second coming of the Son of God He will finish the task. In between the “already” of the kingdom and the “not yet” of the kingdom we live with expectancy and the certainty of hope.
So when you open those Christmas gifts this year remember that they signify the reality of God’s self-communicating, self-giving love that motivated Him to come, “Jesus Christ, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name…” (Philippians 2:6-9) Worship Christ the newborn King with me this year and tell somebody else how good this news is.