Celebrating the Incarnation in a Broken World

incarnation

Christmas is coming!  My family and I are excited! It is time to celebrate!

Christmas is the celebration of God coming to earth in the flesh, as a gift to humanity.  It is a celebration of the incarnation of God as man in the person of Jesus.  This is a very good reason to celebrate.

But Christmas is not always a happy time.  I want to give you fair warning for this post, it gets ugly, like killing babies ugly.  It may ruin some of your holly jolly.

How can we continue to celebrate Christmas in the light of such ugliness?

A concise survey of why the incarnation is important

The incarnation of God in Christ is central to Christianity.  Everything about the Christian faith hinges on who Jesus is and what he does.  And the most basic of that is, what kind of thing was he?  Most heresies come from an attempt to make sense of the person of Jesus.

If Jesus is just human, then his death is meaningless.  He was just a good man who died wrongly and there is no hope of resurrection.

If Jesus is all God and not human, then his death cannot count as the punishment we humans deserve.

If Jesus is both a God person and a human person, a mixture of two persons in one body, then which one died on the cross?  Such a form couldn’t exist.  Some mixture of God and human results in something that is neither human nor God.

For Christians to believe what they believe, Jesus must be fully human through and through, and fully God through and through.  He must be human to take our place, and he must be God to take everyone’s place.

Jesus is the second person of the Trinity, but in obedience to God the Father he humbled himself to be a servant, and a man. Paul says it better in Philippians 2:6-8.

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

The Incarnation and why we need it

We are given the gift of God with us.  That is what the incarnation is.  And our broken humanity needs this gift like nothing else.

In the Gospel of Matthew, the story of Jesus’ birth concludes with Herod ordering the death of every child two and under in Bethlehem (Matt. 2:1-18).  Our Christmas celebrations usually leave out this part of the story, but it shows us the kind of world Jesus came to save.  A jealous dictator orders the death of children for no other purpose than to retain power, and his only consequence this side of eternity is death by old age.  Power valued far greater than human life.  This is the world that God so loved (John 3:16).

The precious and intimate moment of the nativity, angels, shepherds, wise men, and all is broken into by the threat of sin.  The beautiful moment we celebrate is immediately tempered with the reality of why we so desperately needed that moment.  Why we need the God-Man Jesus to defeat death and sin.

Herod valued power above all else, and he had the power to kill children if he thought it would benefit him.

That same attitude exists today.  We see that the same kind of violence going on.  It isn’t a great stretch of the imagination to think of the anguish of school shootings, especially Sandy Hook.  Christmas this year is tempered by the images of war coming out of Aleppo as civilians are bombarded in their sleep or of a truck ramming into holiday shoppers in Germany.  We are having Christmas and people are being blown up or run over.  It’s hard to fathom.

As Christians I believe there are at least two wrong ways to respond.  One is to ignore it and turn a blind eye, being thankful that getting shelled doesn’t happen here and going on being holly and jolly as if nothing is happening.  Such a response stifles the fundamental empathy that we have towards people, people who are made in God’s image, people who have a place in God’s Kingdom. Such a response is inappropriate because the person we claim to celebrate and worship in Jesus Christ loves those that are suffering and our indifference becomes hypocrisy.

The other extreme is also wrong, that is, to cancel Christmas, be down in the dumps about life and try to feel better by giving money.  This rejects the power of the incarnation.  First, money won’t solve the problems of sin, it may help, but it cannot solve them.

But Jesus’ death and resurrection can solve them.  His death and resurrection as lived out and practiced in His Church has impacted and will continue to impact the world like nothing else.  That is the Church we are part of.  We need to celebrate Christmas, because it is the incarnation that changes us. It is the incarnation that gives us hope in the face of the reality of Sin.  God became like man so man can be made like God.

Think of it like this, Jesus is to humans what humans are to animals.  That is if you look at dogs that are pets, they are much more human than their wild and feral counterparts.  We love our pets and it makes them more human.  Likewise, Jesus loves us, and it makes us more like God.  Every simile eventually breaks down, we are not God’s pets.  But the takeaway is that God’s love toward us in Jesus, makes us more like God in ways that we could not do left to ourselves.

So, this Christmas, in the complex mess of human reality, celebrate Jesus’ coming.  Don’t shrink from the Joy of His coming, and don’t turn a blind eye to the suffering humanity he came to save.  This is Advent.

Recommended reading

Athanasius, On the Incarnation.  Athanasius was a bishop who argued that Jesus must be fully God and fully man in a time when the majority of Christians were of Arian belief (that is Jesus was created, and not co-equal to God). Powerfully argued it has shaped Christian Doctrine of the past 1500 years.