Each year around this time, I read the various passages from both the Old and New Testaments concerning the incarnation. These powerful narratives from God’s Word never get old or stale. Indeed, each year I gain new insights into the mystery of the drama that unfolded on that first Christmas. With every reading, the Holy Spirit seems to bring a new emphasis to my heart and mind.
As I reflect upon these passages this year, I find myself overwhelmed by the deep mystery of God becoming flesh—the incomprehensible truth that God would love broken humanity so much that He would send His one and only Son to Earth. I doubt we can grasp the majesty and glory of the pre-incarnate Christ, seated in Heaven, surrounded by the worship and praise of the angels and God’s people of the ages. His radiant glory filled the expanse of Heaven. And then the Father sent Him on a divine mission to this sin-infested Earth. Our finite minds cannot even imagine what Jesus left to come down to us.
John describes this incomprehensible moment in simple but explosive terms: “The Word became flesh and took up residence among us.” Jesus, the very expression of Holy God—pre-existent, coequal, and in His very essence one with the Father—came down to dwell among men. God has come down to sin-infested Earth to reside among lost humanity. He, the Creator, lies in a lowly manger. The Almighty God humbles Himself to become a helpless baby.
The writer of Hebrews makes sure that we do not miss the significance of this event. He declares that God has spoken to man in multiple ways, but on Christmas He spoke to us through or by His Son. This Son is the “radiance of His glory” and the “exact expression of His nature.”
While there are many purposes for the coming of Jesus, I want to remind you of two. First, Jesus came to reveal the Father. John says that “No one has ever seen God. The one and only Son—the One Who is at the Father’s side—He has explained Him.” Without Jesus we would have known only about God; because of the incarnation we can now know God.
Second, Jesus came on a divine mission to redeem us. Again, the writer of Hebrews makes clear that the descent of Jesus to this Earth was to “make purification for sins.” Paul captures this truth in perhaps one of the most amazing Christmas passages in the New Testament. He wrote these words to the church at Philippi: “Who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage (grasped). Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.”
Don’t miss that last line. He was “obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.” No wonder the Jews, to whom the Gospel was first given, struggled to comprehend the reality of this truth. Although Isaiah had prophesied of a suffering servant in chapter 53, it was far beyond their grasp. In fact, for them it was so “outside the box” that they refused to accept its reality. For all of us, the truth—that God, in the person of His Son, died on a Roman cross hanging between two thieves for the sins of mankind—is mind boggling. No wonder Paul often referred to the Gospel as a mystery. The incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection and glorification of Christ is too deep to fully understand. Yet, by faith we can take hold of this truth and embrace it.
Through years of study, I have discovered that the most significant truth is often the simplest, and the simplest truths are the most powerful. Time and again during this Christmas season, we will see the story of the incarnation portrayed in simple ways. Always it points to a humble peasant girl and her carpenter husband kneeling beside a manger in Bethlehem’s stable. But that simple scene reveals the truth of the ages. Jesus, the one and only Son of God, came to this Earth born of a virgin and took on human flesh to reveal the nature and person of the Father to us. His mission to planet Earth would not be complete until He hung on a cross to make purification for our sins. This is the mystery of Christmas revealed for all to know and embrace by faith.
From Polla and me, Merry Christmas!
Anthony L. Jordan is executive director-treasurer of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.