We have just celebrated the birth of Jesus. But what exactly happened two thousand years ago? A miracle took place. A miracle much greater than angels appearing to Zechariah, Mary, Joseph and the shepherds. A miracle even much greater than the virgin birth. What happened?
The greatest miracle that ever took place was that of the incarnation. Incarnation is a fancy way of saying that God became a human being. How can I say that this was the greatest miracle? What about the cross and the resurrection? As we will see, those events and everything else, only make sense in the light of the incarnation.
For me, knowledge of the incarnation was the missing piece in my spiritual walk growing up. I had a vague understanding that Jesus was not quite normal. He was superhuman in some way, almost like a superhero with special powers. But beyond that, I had no idea. When I eventually understood the incarnation, suddenly everything fell into place.
What I want to do is explain the incarnation simply and clearly and then share seven things we learn from the incarnation.
What is the incarnation? Christians believe that God is a Trinity. There is one God who is in three persons: Father, Son and Spirit. The Son and Spirit were not later additions to the Father, all three are co-eternal, because all three are the one true God. The person of the Son became incarnated as a human being. That is he was born as a human baby, with all the limitations of that existence. He did not become the Son at that time, he was the Son before creation. But he was now a human being. This Jesus was both fully God and fully human. He did not pretend to be human, he really was human and experienced everything that goes along with being a human being. That is the incarnation. Now what does that mean?
What We Learn From the Incarnation
There is a danger that we will see the incarnation as being a purely theoretical concept. It is something just for theologians to debate and reflect on. I believe that the incarnation is incredibly relevant for each one of us. I would like to share seven things that we learn from the incarnation.
The first thing that we learn is that God is relational. It is in the incarnation that we really see these persons of the Trinity. We see some of the interaction between the Father and the Son. Before creation, there was eternal love between Father, Son and Spirit. God is love at his essence. This is eventually shared with humanity as God enters into relationships with us through the incarnation of Jesus.
This leads us to the second thing that we learn and that is that God values communication with humanity. As a father of two children with autism who are nonverbal, I understand both the importance and the challenges of communication. I long to have just a normal conversation with my children. But the distance between God and humanity is far greater than that between myself and my children. God spans that gap through the incarnation. When God took on flesh, communication took place in a way never possible before. This was not the speaking of a prophet or an angelic visitation. This was God and humanity speaking directly to one another as friends.
Why would God do this? The third thing that we learn is that God has a love for humanity beyond our communication. One of the most well known verses in the Bible is, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) The incarnation is the greatest demonstration of God’s love. Remember, the giving of Jesus was not just about the taking on of human limitations but it ultimately led to the cross. There is no greater love than this.
The fourth thing we learn is that we should take Jesus’ teachings seriously. We have in our four Gospels, pages and pages of teachings by Jesus. Sometimes we fast forward to the cross and resurrection, as if they were the only parts that are important. The truth is that Jesus spend a lot more time teaching than he did on the cross. We have to ask ourselves how we will read those teachings. Are they only the theological reflections of an intelligent but purely human teacher? Or are these part of the revelation of God the Son. If Jesus really is God, perhaps we need to take the teachings of the Gospels seriously. We should take the time both to learn them and then to put them into practice. The incarnation doesn’t allow us to dismiss them.
Where is God when it hurts? The fifth lesson sheds some light on this important question. God has always understood every fact, biological and and psychological, about suffering. But in the incarnation, God came to understand our suffering by experience. Everything we experience, betrayal, misunderstanding, gossip, slander, poverty, hunger, physical pain, emotional pain, all of these things were experienced by God. Jesus on the cross, spoke the words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In the incarnation, God understands our suffering far beyond the level of just facts.
The sixth lesson is about how the incarnation sheds light on sin. The biblical picture is that of humanity that is separated from God by sin. Our relationship with God is broken by sin. God wanted to repair that relationship and so he sent his Son. This tells us something about how serious sin is. The giving of the Son was not a simple or painless remedy for sin. That the Father would let his Son die on a cross, tells us something about how serious sin is. But it tells us something else as well. It tells us that we can rely on what God has done to rescue us from sin. If Jesus was only a man, we could have no assurance that our sin was taken care of. If Jesus really was both God and man, then the sacrifice is effective in paying for our sins and re-establishing our relationship with God.
The seventh lesson is that we can be assured that God is always with us. The coming of Jesus changed things forever. This was not just an interesting event for those living in the first century. Everything has changed and it will never be the same. The incarnation of Jesus was a radical shift in our relationship with God. Jesus told his disciples that it was better for him to return to heaven. The reason for this is that God was going to send the Holy Spirit to every believer. The Son is not the only member of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit is given to us as we call upon Jesus as our Lord. The Spirit is not far away but is within us. We can’t exactly say that the Spirit is incarnated in us, but the indwelling of the Spirit is another radical change in our relationship with God. And it is exactly what we need to get through this difficult world of ours.
The incarnation. God made flesh. God the Son and the Son of God. This is not something for only theologians to think about. This is something important to everyone of us. If we have ever wondered what God was like, if we ever wondered where God was during our hard times, if we ever desired to be right with God, all of this depends on the incarnation. The incarnation changes everything. Things would never be the same and that is a good thing.