Dale Appleby reflects on the incarnation
Christmas is quite shocking. At least the big event at the heart of Christmas is. It is like the good shock we get when a very important person visits our home unexpectedly. We may wish later that the place had been cleaned, or that we had said at least something that was intelligent, but as we recover from the shock we feel pleased that we were honoured by their visit - even if we are not quite sure why they came.
We could feel like that about the birth of Jesus, because this is the creator of everything coming to visit and live with his creatures. Presumably he thinks this is important. Or he thinks we are important. Or we could think we were important because of his visit. All of that is true. But why?
Why did the Son of God want to, need to, take on human life, become a human being while still remaining God? And here is a different kind of shock. It was not so much that God needed to do something but that we needed him to do something. He saw that we had a problem that is focussed on death.
Heb 2.14-15 Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.
We see the answer to why he became human by observing what he did with the humanity he took to himself. Did he turn it into something glorious and noble, did he become the epitome of the legendary great human? Quite the opposite to startt with: as a human he seemed very ordinary and weak.
Phil 2.7,8 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death- even death on a cross.
The great shock is that he took the humanity to death. He killed it off. He took on humanity in order to put it to death.
Heb 2.17 Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people.
Gal 4.4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.
To redeem humanity, to bring it back because of its sin, its rebellion, its turn-your-back-on-God and treat-him-like-a-servant attitude. Because it not only deserved death as Adam was told, but needed it.
Rom 8.3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh
Which doesn't paint humans in a very good light. But then God is not a painter, he is a creator. His interest is not in renovating humans, or giving them a make-over, but in recreating them.
The greatness of the shock of bringing Jesus' humanity to death is deepened when we see what God did next. He raised it from death. He didn't leave the humanity in the grave as though he was finally rid of it. He raised it to a new life.
1 Cor 15.21 For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.
The raised Jesus is the human divine Jesus who was killed. He took the humanity of Adam to death, and through death to a new life which is now directly connected with Christ rather than Adam. A new start has been made, a new humanity created out of the old. The shock is that God intends that humans should live in an entirely different way. The new life for humans is directly connected with the life of Christ. Who is no longer on the earth.
Eph 1.20 God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come
It is the same human and divine Christ who is now seated in the highest place. The humanity has not been left behind. The shocking fact that he has taken humanity to the throne of God gives a clue to God's intention for us.
Eph 2.6,7 God raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
But how shall we enjoy this new life? It is not a life given to us independent of Jesus. It is not ours to do with as we like. It is the life of God as we know it in our relationship with Christ.
Col 3.2-4 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
So many shocks. That God sets such value on us that he goes to such great lengths to bless us in this way. And also that he declares that we do not deserve this life but that we have forfeited what he gave us in the first place.
In fact that we live under the shadow of death - a death promised by God in the beginning. But it is through death (the death of the New Human) that God does away with the judgment that hangs over us, and also brings to an end the old corrupted humanity and from it raises up a new human, united with himself in Christ.
Such a wonder. That humans who were once made as the image of God, should in the end share the likeness of God's only Son.
1 John 3.2 Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.
Why did God the Son take human flesh? Why did he want to become a human? Why did the Father send his only Son into the world?
1 John 4. 9,10 God's love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.
So? These are the kind of shocks applied to someone whose heart has stopped beating. Do you, will you, live for this God who loved you so much? The new life is directly connected with Christ himself.
2 Corinthians 5:14,15 For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.
1 John 4. 11,12 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.