The Christmas season is hard emotionally on people who have lost loved ones or who have experienced hard times. I lost my father just before Christmas. It is hard to be joyful and it is easy to ask questions. Why did it happen? Why, if God is good and powerful, does he allow such unjust events?
We are often pressed to give a satisfactory answer but emotionally, no answer satisfies. Yet something powerful has gone on in human history that gives us ultimate hope. We Christians refer to it is the incarnation, God becoming flesh. This is one of the foundational doctrines of Christianity and it is why we celebrate Christmas.
Most of us want some kind of magic to reverse our sorrow. When my dad died, I was looking at him in his casket and would swear I saw him breathing. I wanted him to be alive. We want God to change history and take away our tragedy. But deep down we know that is not the way it works. We live in a fallen world where nothing is quite right. It’s not the way it is supposed to be. Each one of us know our flaws and we certainly know the flaws we see in others. And if we are honest, we have to admit that our collective sin has affected our world. We broke the Law of God and the consequence of God’s judgment is our world with its imperfections, sufferings, and sorrows. But, we find that the Bible is the story of God saving us from ourselves.
4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law,
5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Gal. 4:4-6 ESV)
God did something that is incomprehensible for us. Instead of magic, instead of pretending that our sin has no consequences, God joined us. God became man. This is a difficult concept. The early church debated what it means and concluded that Jesus was both God and man, fully God, fully Man, without any mixture of natures. It remains the orthodox Christian position. What in the world does that mean?
I have had the privilege of holding my own new born children and grandchildren in my arms and marveling at the miracle that had just happened. These little humans are so incredible. They are tiny, helpless, and dependent. We have to keep them warm or cool as needed. We have to hold their heads to protect their neck. They cannot feed themselves. So we feed them and change their diapers (nappies for our British friends), and we bathe them to keep our little children clean. Our babies are so soft and smooth and so helpless. It takes at least 18 years to raise them to minimal adulthood.
When the fullness of time came, God sent forth his Son. It is God’s timing. He has a plan for human history and included in that plan, God became Man. Jesus, often called the God-Man, was born just like every other child. He was born as a helpless baby whose neck was weak so that his parents had to support him. He had to be changed and cleaned and fed by his mother. He was born at a time when it is estimated that 25-30% of new-born babies died and 50% died by their 5th birthday. What was God thinking! How could God do such a thing? God chose to redeem us by becoming like us even in our worst conditions!
Throughout history, the baby Jesus has been depicted in art as a little man sitting on his mother’s lap. I do not understand how God became flesh and at the same time steers history in the proper direction. I do know this, if we take the Bible seriously, Jesus was not a little man sitting on his mother’s knee. He was a baby. He was born into our world just like us with all the dangers and perils.
God chose to redeem the world from the inside out. He became flesh and experienced what we experience. He was born into an ordinary home. In that day, almost everyone was poor. From the beginning, king Herod tried to kill him because the fulfillment of prophecy was a threat to his kingship.
Jesus grew in wisdom and statue, in other words, he grew up just like the rest of us. “And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.” (Lk. 2:40 ESV) He grew up, lived with his family, learned a trade and experienced the sorrows of life as we do. Joseph, his father, is never mentioned after he was 12 years old. It is assumed that he died. In life, he preached the coming of the Kingdom of God, was oppressed and was killed for his proclamation. But we also know that he was raised from the dead.
Why did God become flesh and do all of this? Jesus came, not to just to redeem humanity but to redeem the whole of creation.
20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope
21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. (Rom. 8:20-22 NAU)
Part of God’s judgment was subjecting all creation to futility. We know that everything is touched by our fall. But Jesus comes to reclaim, not only us, but our world as well. The vision from the Book of Revelation is that God redeems all things, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.” (Rev. 21:1 ESV)
Why the incarnation? God immersed himself completely into our lives. And there is not one inch that God does not ultimately redeem. I use a metaphor from the gambling world to understand this. We dealt the hand and the hand has to be played out even though we will lose everything. But God was not willing for us to lose everything nor was he willing to short-circuit his justice. So God chose to take on our sin and paid the price so that we might be redeemed. It is true that we still live in this fallen world with all of its sorrows. But all of it will be redeemed and made right.
The incarnation is far more than just a baby born and laid in a feed trough. It is God’s plan to redeem his people and to redeem his world.
If your sorrow is too deep to sing Joy to the World, I hope you will take the time to consider the deep implications of the incarnation. It may not take away all of your pain but it will give you hope. We will all enter into God’s kingdom, scarred and mangled by what life throws out at us. But we can withstand anything when we have hope that one day God will make it right.
If you are full of joy or even frustration that others do not share you joy, sing Away in the Manger and It Came upon a Midnight Clear knowing that something wonderful happened on that night when God was born to Mary and Joseph. Rejoice in knowing that this is not just another story that we sometimes hear, but it is a real moment in history when God made plain his plan to redeem us from our sin. And let no one take away your joy.
I urge the reader to go back and read both Matthew and Luke and relive the birth of Christ. I hope you will go to a Christmas Eve service or even better a Christmas Day service and worship and celebrate this wonderful and deep doctrine called the Incarnation, God born as a human to redeem us. Bring someone with you so that they might discover our hope in Christ and the joy that he gives.