Merry Christmas: The Incarnation
Man’s maker was made man, that He, Ruler of the stars, might nurse at His mother’s breast; that the Bread might hunger, the Fountain thirst, the Light sleep, the Way be tired on its journey; that the Truth might be accused of false witness, the Teacher be beaten with whips, the Foundation be suspended on wood; that Strength might grow weak; that the Healer might be wounded; that Life might die. – Augustine (Sermon 191.1)
The incarnation is one of the most amazing doctrines of the Church. The incarnation means “to be embodied with flesh”. The doctrine of the incarnation simply put (the understatement of the year) tells how God the Son, the Agent of Creation and Sustainer of the Cosmos, the One who was in a face to face relationship with God the Father and God the Spirit, humbled Himself by taking on human flesh, and willing took up residence among humanity.
Now, I think many today when they hear the word incarnation interpret it to mean something it is not. Maybe some hear the word and think it is some old theological term that really smart people use to describe something that is really hard to explain. Maybe when they hear the word they think about little baby Jesus floating 6 inches above his manger. Or maybe it should be reserved for the pastor and not the lay person. Well, I’d like to take a moment and explain the term incarnation and the implications that come along with it.
Listen to the words of the Apostle John,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…John 1:1-2,14
The word “dwelt” is an interesting word. Some translations render it “took up residence”, “pitched a tent”, or “moved into the neighborhood”. However, the literal meaning of the word carries the idea of “tabernacled” among us (Young’s Literal Translation). Now, what does that mean? When you look at the context of John’s prologue (1:1-18) you notice John in verses 14-18 mentions Moses and the Law. So in our minds we should be thinking about Old Testament Israel and the Exodus. Thus tabernacle should automatically point us to the “presence of God”. In the Old Testament the tabernacle represented the presence of God on earth; the fullness of God dwelling upon the earth. So notice the picture: Jesus has come to tabernacle and to demonstrate the presence of God on earth. Therefore if you want to see and experience the presence of God look to Jesus.
Listen to Paul,
“For in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily…”- Colossians 2:9
Jesus was fully human and fully God. We see in the incarnation that God is not deistic (completely transcendent and removed) but that God is fully involved in our lives and is concerned about our world. In Jesus, God has revealed His presence and has demonstrated who He is. We see that God is willing to get involved on an intimate level with humanity. Matthew describes the incarnation with the name Emmanuel which means “God with us”. Throughout Matthew we see that “God with us” implies eating and associating with sinners, healing individuals with diseases, hanging out with the marginalized, being involved with the misfits, and loving the unlovable.
Missional Implications of the Incarnation
We see in Jesus that God is not removed from the world or culture. Incarnation implies that God is willing come down to our level, in the midst of our sin, and live with us for the purpose of demonstrating that there is another way to live.
This I think is foundational in understanding our role as Jesus followers. Since we are supposed to follow and model Jesus, let’s allow the incarnation to be the pattern we live our lives by. We as Jesus followers are to incarnate Him by allowing the Spirit to guide us in the midst of our community.
As Jesus incarnated God, the Spirit incarnates Jesus in us as we live our lives. Notice what incarnation implies:
Good grief, pretty negative eh? Notice if we follow the incarnational model of Jesus what that leads to. However, it does not end there. Humiliation always precedes vindication. That’s the Jesus way of doing things. Your life that is meaningful and full of purpose may be a life of suffering, risk, and rejection or at least it will involve some of these aspects if you are following Jesus. Again the story does not end there. Vindication will come. God does not leave His people out in the wilderness to die. He will act. So by living the incarnational model you will experience rejection, even by those closest around you. But know that God will step in and prove that you are truly His child. Therefore on a practical level incarnation means:
Getting involved in your community
Reaching out to “sinners”
Forgiving those who have sinned against you
Loving the unlovable
As we consider Christmas this year let us be challenged by the incarnation. The incarnation is risky. God Himself wrapping Himself in flesh and dwelling among a sinful humanity. This is the way of Jesus. We follow a risky Savior. A Savior willing to take a great risk.
The Nicene Creed
I’d like to provide you with part of the Nicene Creed, from 325 a.d. Read these words and notice the way it describes Jesus.
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made
Who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.
As we reflect on the incarnation I encourage you to think about what this means for you. Is the incarnation just a historical doctrine found on the pages of dusty theological books? Or is it a way of life, patterened after the incarnation of Jesus the Messiah, the second person of the Trinity, which is to lived out through the Spirit in the midst of our community.