Christmas is a unique season, it’s one of the few times in the year where Christian holidays line up with cultural ones. In this particular moment, every year, it becomes impossible to travel more than a few blocks without stumbling across a manger scene. It could be in a department store, or decorating the lawn of your next door neighbor’s home, but for an entire month what Christian’s believe about the birth of Jesus becomes inescapable. Something those manger scenes can’t capture is the depth and complexity of what happened in that stable in Bethlehem. What we celebrate at Christmas time is not about a beginning. Because the Son has eternally existed with the Father and the Holy Spirit as a part of the Trinity, he has no beginning. Rather, at Christmas we celebrate the incarnation: the moment when the Son of God became flesh to dwell among us. Put simply, the eternal Word of God united himself to human nature. That is a mind blowing, earth shattering reality. Augustine explains how incredible this is in one of his most famous Christmas sermons, “Man’s maker was made man, that He, Ruler of the stars, might nurse at His mother’s breast...He who before all ages and without a beginning determined by days was the Son of God, saw fit in these latter days to be the Son of man.”
It’s almost too much to comprehend, and it’s certainly more that any single blog post can do justice to. For hundreds of years Christians have carefully clarified how to talk about what happened in Bethlehem all those years ago. At the same time, believers have understood that as we approach the manger, we also approach the limits of what human beings can understand. Still, we don’t have to throw the mystery flag right away, there is an awful lot that the Bible does teach us about the incarnation so that we aren’t left in the dark. Here are 3 things you should know about the Incarnation this Christmas season...
1.) The Incarnation Fulfills the Old Testament: This might seem like a no brainer, after all, if you’ve been joining us for Advent you’ve heard us read aloud a whole bunch of Old Testament prophecies about Jesus in our service. But the incarnation fulfills the Old Testament on a much deeper level than that, and in ways that are surprising. Take for example, the temple. After the construction is completed Solomon offers a prayer of dedication, and right in the middle of praying he asks , “Will God indeed dwell on the earth?” Such a question isn’t coming from left field, throughout the history of Israel that seems to be God’s intention: he walked with Adam and Eve in the garden in genesis 3, and he promises to dwell among Israel at the tent of meeting in Exodus 29. The Lord’s plan from the beginning was to live among his people. But because of sin the presence of God always departs, it never takes up permanent residency. This happens again in the temple, during Solomon’s prayer it is filled with the glory of God...but even that comes to an end during the exile. Ultimately Solomon’s question receives a decisive answer several hundred years later, when John tells us, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” God will dwell upon the earth, but not in the glory of the temple, instead it will be in the humility of a carpenter’s home.
2.) Jesus is really human: In our modern day, most people don’t have any trouble accepting this. Even secular historians are in general agreement that Jesus was a human being. Where the debate often comes is wether he was truly divine. In the early centuries of Christianity it was the opposite. Because of a widespread belief that the physical world was evil, many people struggled to accept that God would ever unite himself to matter, so many argued that while Jesus appeared human, he wasn’t really. However, the consistent testimony of scripture is that when the word became flesh, he took on every aspect of our human nature. He didn’t simply appear to be a human being, he really was one. That means he had friends like Mary, Martha and Lazarus, worked a job to pay his bills, and even grew in wisdom and strength according to his humanity. This is really important. Because every aspect of our humanity was corrupted by sin in Adam, Christ had to take on all of what it means to be human so that he could redeem it. This was summed up by one early Christian theologian, “That which he has not assumed he has not healed.” In order to save human beings, Christ had to become one fully, no part of our human nature could be left out, he assumed it all. I should be clear though, that doesn’t mean that Jesus sinned or made mistakes. The old phrase, “To err is human” isn’t in scripture, not even in the Greek. The Bible doesn’t portray sin as something that makes us human, but something that makes us less than human. Jesus, on the other had, is true humanity: like us in every way yet without sin.
3.) The Incarnation Is Permanent: John tells us that, “The Word became flesh.” What we rarely stop to consider is the fact that this action is permanent. At the end of Jesus’s ministry, after the cross and the resurrection, he ascends into heaven. Notice, however, that he doesn’t leave his earth suit behind: he enters into heaven bodily. The Word has become flesh, and it can never be undone. God the Son has eternally united himself to human nature for our sake. The same body that was pierced on the cross is, at this very moment, seated in heaven at the right hand of the Father and still has the scars of the crucifixion. Why does any of this matter? It matters because it tells us the work of Jesus is irreversible. The cross cannot be overturned, the incarnation cannot be torn apart, the fabric of salvation cannot be un-woven. What the Lord has done cannot be undone. God has spoken decisively. In the past he spoke by the prophets, but in these days he has spoken by his Son, the word made flesh forever more, Jesus.