More precisely, it is the Festival of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, celebrating the coming of almighty, eternal God into our world in the flesh of a human baby.
The Incarnation is a mystery that beggars explanation. It is a thought out of our depth, a wonder deep. Because this truth is not easy to grasp nor marked by immediately evident practicalities, we can tend to skirt around it.
How can I keep the central truth of Christmas at the center of my Christmas?
I think the reality of the Incarnation comes alive like the flavor of a tea bag released by long steeping in steaming water. We linger with it, long and steady.
The Incarnation did not happen suddenly on a night in Bethlehem. It was purposed in the heart of God from before the foundation of the earth and affirmed in the aftermath of Adam and Eve’s sad rebellion that broke everything beautiful: “The LORD God said to the serpent….I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel.” (Gen. 3:15)
The Incarnation was promised by prophets to come in observable history through the family tree of nation of Israel, the tribe of Judah, the line of Jesse: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be on His shoulder, and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace, there shall be no end.” (Is.9:6-7)
The Incarnation is a miracle of creation, the birth of a baby to a virgin girl not unlike the beginning of the whole world, when the Spirit had also hovered over a vast nothing until something appeared: “Mary asked the angel, ‘How shall this be?….The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born, will be called holy—the son of God.” (Luke 1:35)
The Incarnation means that in a moment in a stable, when a squalling baby was midwifed into the world and received by a simple carpenter’s hands, the eternal God – overwhelming with Glory, eternal, uncontainable, immense with omnipotence—was in human flesh: “The Word was God…. and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth….in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” (John 1:1, 14; Col. 1:19)
The Incarnation is God coming into the wild searching for us poor prodigal rebels –wandering far in an effort to find soul-satisfaction on our own terms — to bring us back Home to our Father: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a virgin, born under law, to redeem those who were under law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Gal. 4:4-5, 7)
The Incarnation is the sunrise of God tip-toeing into our long dark night, hinting that there is so much more good to come in His day: “Because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise from on high shall visit us, give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death…the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” (Luke 1:78-79, John 1:4-5)
The Incarnation is necessary for everything else God desires to do in salvation. The gospel needs a body.
Without the Incarnation, there can be no identification or sympathy of God with the full brokenness of the human condition. “He was tempted in all ways, just as we are, yet without sin.” (Heb. 4:15) Jesus saw, through human eyes, “ the crowds and had compassion on them for they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mk.6:34). He felt weariness, the burden of suspicion, the sting of betrayal, the sadness of grief, frustration and disappointment and yes, even the blessing of the simple joys of conversations with friends or a good meal. It means he understands the way things are.
Without the Incarnation, there can be no justification, for in the nails that pierced Jesus’ hands and feet we see that “he was wounded for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace and by his stripes we are healed.” (Is.53:5) In the blood that spilled from His veins to his death, “we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins…for apart from the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins.” (Eph.1:7, Heb.9:22)
Without the Incarnation, there can be no resurrection, vindicating Jesus’ victory over all sin for all time, for “we know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.” (Rom. 6:9) That Easter moment also assure our own participation in His resurrection life: “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (Rom. 6:4-5)
Without the Incarnation, there is no reconciliation to the God who made us for himself: “In Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross.” (Col. 1:19-20) In other words, the incarnation of Jesus is the only possible way that the upside-down is set right-side up, that wrong is made right, that injustice yields to justice, that the unnamed longings of our hearts for a world that is different and better will ever be fulfilled.
The Incarnation is, in the fullest sense, “Immanuel, God with us” for…
our good and His glory;
our release and freedom;
our forgiveness and cleansing;
our peace and rest;
our brokennness and healing;
our joy and hope;
our life, now flavored with His forever.
There are still a few weeks still before Christmas. Put the teapot on the stove and steal away for a few quiet moments each day to steep your heart in just one of these truths of the incarnation. You will “taste and see that the Lord is good’ in the miracle of Jesus’ incarnation.