We all know that we are supposed to be amazed by the incarnation. We reverently listen to Christmas messages and use pious language about the marvel and beauty of the child in the manger. However, if we are honest, a lot of us struggle get much spiritual benefit from thinking about the incarnation. We are more mystified by the story of Christmas than amazed by it. We readily understand the need for Jesus to live a perfect life, for him to die on the cross, and for him to resurrect; however, the relevance of the incarnation is more difficult for us to determine. The proof of this is seen in two ways: first, in just how little we talk about the incarnation at any time other than Christmas and, second, the slight influence that the incarnation has in shaping our everyday devotional lives.
Now, if you (like me) have often struggled to discern the spiritual relevance of the incarnation, here are some ideas to ponder over the advent season.
1 – The Incarnation Reveals the Dignity of Human Nature
God could not take the form of a tiger, a mole, or an eagle and reveal His glory. There is something incompatible about the nature of a mere animal and the nature of God. Animals lack the freedom, will, intellect, and ability to love which are necessary to reflect the personal nature of God.
The incarnation highlights for us that, when the Bible says we are made in the image of God, it really means what it says. Our nature, as shocking as it may sound, is able to bear something of the weight of God. God is able to take the form of a man because man is able, by design, to reflect the life of God. Marilynne Robinson, the great Christian novelist, captures this point when she says, “Jesus is the profoundest praise of humankind the cosmos could utter” – or, as one old Puritan put the matter, Jesus is the “flower” of our nature.
2 – The Incarnation Measures the Immeasurable Love of God
Pagan religion could not conceive of a true incarnation. The Greeks may have told stories of Zeus taking on an avatar in order to enjoy an evening of pleasure, but they never made the mistake of imagining that Zeus would inseparably unite his nature with the nature of a human being. No god, the Greeks would have thought, would love human beings enough to become one of them in suffering, in pain, and in death.
The marvel of the incarnation is that the eternal Son of God assumed the form of a man in order to rescue us from sin, suffering, and death. In order to do so, he became a sin offering, suffered in our stead, and – did not just die – but experienced the worst of all possible deaths. Such heavenly love exceeds anything human beings could have imagined or hoped for. Thomas Watson was right when he said, ‘Christ incarnate is nothing other than love covered with flesh’.
3 – The Incarnation Illumines the Sacredness of the Cross
If Jesus is not God, the cross is unspectacular. Thousands of men and women have been executed throughout history. If Jesus is simply a martyr, he is forgettable.
But Jesus is God, a fact that changes everything. His blood is not just the blood of an innocent man, but the blood of God enfleshed as a man. Appreciating this ought to make us shudder as we reflect on the weightiness of the cross. John Donne says,
Yet dare I’almost be glad, I do not see
That spectacle of too much weight for mee.
Who sees Gods face, that is selfe life, must dye;
What a death were it then to see God dye?
Looking at the cross, we should be dumbstruck as we ask one question: why? Why would God do this?
The more we appreciate the incarnation, the more we will marvel at the cross. To see God in Christ is to see the glory of Calvary.
4 – The Incarnation Makes Sense of the Resurrection
Christians sometimes overestimate the intellectual scandal of the resurrection. If Jesus is simply a man, then the idea of him being resurrected is shocking. Human beings are mortal. We expect them to die and to stay dead.
Yet, Jesus is 100% God as well as 100% man, and God is not mortal, but immortal. Thus, whereas we might expect death to have power over a mere human being, we should not expect death to have power over Jesus. How could the Son of God die and not resurrect? This is the real question we should be asking. Death is not stronger than God; death has no claim over holiness.
That the Son of God could die is a paradox; that the Son of God would resurrect after death is no more surprising than the sun bursting through the curtain of night.
5 – The Incarnation Reveals the Essence of Spirituality
In the person of Christ we see humanity yielding itself completely to divinity. Jesus is perfectly righteous because his will is submitted completely to the love of the Father.
Herein lies the essence of all true spirituality. Our greatest fulfilment does not come by resisting God or trying to become God, but by yielding ourselves completely to God. Although we cannot replicate the unique person of Christ, we can learn from him what it means to be truly human. I am most myself when I am most yielded to God. This is the existential truth of the incarnation.
By Joe Barnard