“BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which translated means, “GOD WITH US.”
- Matthew 1:23
"And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth."
- John 1:14
Of all the sacred aspects of Christmas, the incarnation of Christ remains the most fascinating and vital to me. That God Himself became flesh is a concept so ridiculous, so inconceivable, so scandalous, that it sets Christianity apart from all other religions. Rather than being a wise sage or a model example of morality, Jesus claimed to be God Himself in the flesh.
The word "incarnation" itself means "in the flesh." Rather than having a God who kept His creation at a distance, He entered into the mess of humanity in order to redeem it. Some say this says a lot about how much God was willing to spend to restore us to Himself, but in reality it says more about his character than anything.
When Christ became human, he gave up his throne, his privilege being God, he gave up his comfort. This incarnation is the crux of our faith. How could Jesus take the punishment of sin for a people he didn't relate to? To be able to be our substitute on the cross, God would have to be man. He would have to be WITH us, in our midst, a mighty one to save. By becoming man, God demonstrated His monstrous love. Not only would He save us, but he would become us, relate to us, experience what we do so that we might have a real relationship with God through the person of Jesus.
"For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin."
- Hebrews 4:15
This is the significance of Christ's identity as "Immanuel." As Matthew explains Isaiah 7:14, this name means "God with us" and He will save His people from their sins. The entire purpose of Jesus's earthly life is contained in this name - His deity, his relationship to us, and his purpose. Never before had mankind experienced this kind of radical intervention, this kind of scandal. Why should God almighty give up so much for created beings? Through such an act of love, we might be reunited in relationship with God, and the character and glory of Christ would be put on full display for the World to see.
"although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
- Philippians 2:6-11
Charles Spurgeon, one of history's most acclaimed preachers, taught on the incarnation of Christ on Christmas Eve of 1854:
"Oh, wondrous stoop of condescension, that our blessed Jesus should be girded with humility and stoop so low! Ah, if He stooped, why should He bend to such a lowly birth? And if He bowed, why should He submit, not simply to become the Son of poor parents, but to be born in so miserable a place?
Let us take courage here. If Jesus Christ was born in a manger in a rock, why should He not come and live in our rocky hearts? If He was born in a stable, why should not the stable of our souls be made into a house for Him? If He was born in poverty, may not the poor in spirit expect that He will be their Friend? If He thus endured degradation at the first, will He count it any dishonor to come to the very poorest and humblest of His creatures and tabernacle in the souls of His children? Oh, no!"
The incarnation of Immanuel- God With Us- offers us hope. By his humility in coming to earth, Christ showed us that he was here to save even the lowly and the weak. As Spurgeon noted, "why should not the stable of our souls be made into a house for Him?" The beauty of God With Us is that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. He died for us even in his birth in Bethlehem. Christ was crucified even when the shepherds made their way to the stable.
There was never any plan B. Jesus' purpose in being born was always to die for the sins of the world and pay our sin debt.
While we open our presents and spend time with friends, family, and loved ones this holiday season, let us remember the significance of the incarnation. Jesus gave us his life, both living and dying, so that we could have a relationship with God again. The sweetness of relationships with those we love are just a tiny glimpse of the pure relationship we will have with Jesus when we are with Him in heaven. Likewise, the loneliness felt by many at this time of year is a reminder that this world is not our home.
Thank God that he didn't condemn us to the loneliness of this world, but entered into it Himself so that we would have hope beyond it! This is the joy of Christmas, the significance of the incarnation.
Christ by highest heav'n adored
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin's womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"
- Hark the Herald Angels Sing, vs. 2
By Steven Bowman,
December 24, 2014