by Christian T. George
Flesh. The entirety of Christianity hangs upon this little word. It is a word that existed in the mind of God before the invention of email or iPhones, before laptops, automobiles or airplanes—before cities were constructed or nations established, before oceans were introduced to shores, before stars swirled through solar systems. Even before the ticking of time itself, when nothing covered everything, there was God thinking of flesh.
And then it happened. Sometime around 4 B.C., “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (John 1:14). In other words, Jesus Christ became a man. A real man. A man that could bruise if you punched Him or bleed if you cut Him. He could feel the throb of a headache, the chills of a fever. The God who “measured the waters in the hollow of His hand” (Isaiah 40:12) could now wrap His palms around a cold pitcher of water. The One who “created the great creatures of the sea” (Gen. 1:21) could now sink His teeth into a tilapia sandwich. For 33 years, God walked a mile not only in our shoes, but also in our feet—in our ankles, kneecaps, shins and hip joints. The great Baptist preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, said it best, “The infinite has become the infant.”
American idol contestant Mandesa Hundley got it right. “What can be stranger than God in a manger?” And how odd of God! That He should be born out of wedlock to a peasant mother in an insignificant village. That the King of Kings should emerge from a virgin’s womb in a filthy stable. It was not a silent night. No “peace on Earth, good will toward men.” In fact, Mary and Joseph had to smuggle the infant Jesus to Egypt to save His life.
As an adult, Christ would work a minimum wage job as a carpenter’s assistant. He would hang out with the marginalized of society—lepers, prostitutes, beggars and tax collectors. He would have no home to brag about. Foxes would have better holes. Christ’s closest friends would desert Him; His government would humiliate Him. Naked, flogged and spit upon, this Carpenter would be nailed to a piece of wood like any other common criminal.
Christmas is a celebration of the incarnation. It is a season that points us backward to the time when Christ abandoned His home in Heaven to descend to Earth below. It speaks to God’s interest in the nitty-gritty details of our lives, and how Christ became flesh to redeem flesh. This holiday invites us to remember that there are no limits to how far the Creator is willing to go re-create His creation.
But Christmas does more than point us backward. It also points us forward by calling each one of us to imitate Jesus by becoming flesh for those in need. In a digital age of avatars and Facebook—when flesh is so easily separated from spirit—Christmas shows us that Jesus came to Earth as a person, not a pixel. Christ was no ghost, as doubting Thomas once assumed (John 20:27). Instead, you could insert your finger in His side. You could feel a pulse beating strongly in His veins. Christmas challenges us to make ourselves available to others—to be physically and veritably available.
The doctrine of the incarnation is not an abstract concept that only a few enlightened intellectuals can grasp. This teaching finds no exclusive home in the ivory tower. On the contrary. It belongs to anyone and everyone. All of us are charged with the mission of becoming the hands and feet of God in a world that needs a healing touch.
In the following pages, the doctrine of Christ’s incarnation will be examined through a variety of lenses. Steve Lemke provides an apologetic for the incarnation by showing the foundational nature of this teaching and how God’s love for humanity is magnified through it. Bobby Kelly explores the people of the first Christmas in eye-opening ways. Rick Melick guides us through a biblical exposition of the virgin birth and reveals how this doctrine is applicable to our daily lives. Anthony Jordan helps elevate our conceptions about Christmas beyond sentimentality to deeper truth. Throughout the pages, there are various tidbits on Christmas traditions.
During the hustle and bustle of this Christmas season, let the divine descent of Jesus Christ raise our gaze upward. Let our thoughts dwell upon the greatest mystery of our faith—because Jesus was God, we can relate to the Father; because Jesus was man, the Father can relate to us. May the lowly manger remind us that the Word became flesh and remained flesh, so that even now Christ bears the marks of love on His body. May the star of Bethlehem illuminate the truth that God is in the business of forgiveness, and that no distance is too great—no pilgrimage is too far—for the wooing, pursuing grace of Christ. May the manifold gifts we unwrap direct our attention to the greatest gift ever given, when God “gave His only Son that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16) by “taking the very nature of a servant” (Phil. 2:7). And as we come together this Christmas with families and friends, may we continually keep the person of Jesus Christ not only at the heart of our holiday, but also at the very core of our existence. For only when Christ is at the center of our lives can our lives be truly centered.
Christian Timothy George is assistant professor of biblical and theological studies and Jewell and Joe Huitt professor of religious education at Oklahoma Baptist University.