“Here am I, the servant of the Lord;
let it be with me according to your word.”
He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
This time of year I frequently see people uncertain of whether to wish us “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”. Similarly, schools dither between scheduling these days as “Christmas Break” or “Winter Break”. Some people wonder whether this is really Christmas or the most wonderful time of the year. Are these days about winter wonder and holiday magic, or about the Son of God coming down to us?
I like the fact that early Christians called these days, “The Festival of the Incarnation.” The word incarnation comes from the Latin incarno, “to make into flesh.” It was a celebration of God so loving us that He chose to become one of us. God so completely took on our humanity that He became as vulnerable and dependent as any other newborn. John’s Gospel says that God “became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:14). The Creator deigned to enter His creation and all the experiences of humanity. It meant a risky birth in a barn yard manger, years of working in a carpenter’s shop, hanging out with sinners, enduring rejection, dying a criminal’s death, and rising to new life. Our humanity is very precious to Jesus as He embraced all of it except sin.
Incarnation means that all the fullness of God is united in the human Jesus without His divinity changing into humanity. Paul will say later, in his letter to the Colossians, “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9). This is great mystery! “He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary.” (The Apostles Creed)
Christians have called these days “The Festival of the Incarnation” to remind the world that God really did become fully human in Jesus. Jesus is not myth, spirit being, or lofty ideal, but a real flesh and blood human like us. The One who created Adam and made him lord over creation, watched Adam fall and bring destruction on all creation. So God made Himself one with Adam’s race to bring humanity and creation to fulfillment. As sin and death entered the world through a man, so the salvation of the world comes through a Man – Christ Jesus. God came into the world at Bethlehem to defeat sin and death in the territory it made its own, that of Adam and his descendants.
Karl Barth describes God entering the fray by becoming fully human in order to fulfill God’s purpose for us:
“At the very point where we refuse and fail offending and provoking God, making ourselves impossible before Him and in that way missing our destiny, treading under foot our dignity, forfeiting our right, losing our salvation and hopelessly compromising our creaturely being – at that very point God Himself intervenes as man.” (Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV, 1)
We rejoice in the Incarnation because by living and doing what Adam and his descendants failed to do, the Man, Jesus, will bring all of creation to a glorious and harmonious completion.
The Christmas Hymn, “Joy to the World”, says it well, looking forward to God’s completion of His creation:
“No more let sins and sorrow grow
Nor thorns infest the ground
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found, far as the curse is found
Far as, far as the curse is found.”
- Why was it necessary for God to become a real human being for humanity to be saved?
- How might the Incarnation enrich people’s understanding of Christmas?