“EMMANUEL – GOD WITH US”
“The Word became flesh”
“He was incarnate of the Virgin Mary”
For me one of the most exciting things about the Christmas story is the sheer exuberance and blatant joy with which it revels in the “other worldly” and the supernatural. We have angels manifesting themselves and speaking out heavenly announcements, angels in great numbers gloriously filling the night sky; we have the miraculous birth of John the Baptist and then an even more miraculous virgin birth for Mary; we have a very bright star hovering over the birth place of Jesus, having been followed by magi from the East. There are some, of course, who would feel much more comfortable if all this were reduced to “folklore”, and the Christian faith kept securely to the “rational” and the “ethical”. Indeed that is what many “Christian” scholars and commentators have actually striven to do, and still strive to do. But, happily, the story of Christmas is not about man and his “rationality”; it is a story about GOD. God is on the scene at Christmas and revealing something of his hidden glory that we don’t normally see.
It is a brave (or even “impertinent”) person who would seek to put God in a rational box, and deny Him any activity or creativity beyond our normal common human experience. Take the angels for example. God, as creator has brought into being an extraordinary wonderful planet perfectly fitted for the equally extraordinary creation of human beings. His creativity in the universe still goes on, baffling and amazing us. On what reasonable basis, then, can one deny Him creating a whole myriad of other beings, spiritual beings, in some other realm where He has a more “visible” existence? On what reasonable basis can we deny these spiritual beings access to this creation of ours when God so wishes? We have to “let God be God”, and angels be angels! If we have any faith in God at all, we must allow him to be infinitely bigger than our own comprehension. We simply cannot tie him down to our own human experience and understanding. If we do we betray a lack of grasp on the sheer greatness of God!
Part of our problem as Christians is that we tend by default to make him in our own image and make him much smaller than he is, as though he were tied down by the normal rules and regulations of this creation. We need to remember that he made this creation and he is much bigger than this creation. He can, and does, add the miraculous touch to the normal workings of the world; he can make things work out differently in our lives in answer to prayer. He can “tweak” the natural processes as he wishes – and he indeed does! When we start to acknowledge him and walk in fellowship with him the course of our lives will change and change for the better, and the providences of our lives will also change for the better. So we need to rejoice in the greatness, the power and the glory of God!
The supreme miracle of Christmas, however, is of course that God “took on” human flesh in the person of Jesus. Inevitably, therefore, there had to be a virgin birth where the “Father” (so to speak) of the Child could only be the life-creating Holy Spirit, the One who alone is “The Lord and Giver of Life”. But at the same time the miracle happened on account of the simple faith of Mary, the woman who was to bear the child. What a challenge that simple faith in a big God is to us! At the human level we need to believe more in our God, and more in his power and willingness to use it on our behalf.
What does the “incarnation” say to us? I always think first of the fact that it puts immense value on us human beings. I want to exclaim with the Psalmist, “What is man, that you are mindful of him?” God has not “taken the form” of an angel, but he has taken human form! In reaching out and identifying with us God indicates how precious we are to him. Drinking in this truth should in no way breed in us proud complacency, but humble thankfulness, and it is intended that it should produce in us a profoundly deep inner satisfaction and peace. Equally, if we want any basis for our attitude toward other human beings in this world, then we may find it spelt out crystal clear in this human birth of Jesus, the Son of God. His identification with us means we are to treat other human beings with the greatest respect, and we are to be careful with human life at all its stages. Human life is sacrosanct.
Sometimes we hear or read the comment that Jesus became human in order that we in our turn might become divine, and in that way his incarnation brought us our salvation. That sounds wonderful and logical, but it is a statement to be carefully clarified. In the first place it is not the purpose of God to make us “divine” or “give us divinity”. We are human beings, a creation of God, and will always remain so in the world to come. Divinity is not something we are destined for. However, what is true, and is indeed wonderful, is that we are destined to be filled with the Spirit of God and to be people in whom God dwells by his Spirit; our humanity will be shot through with the divine presence. Moreover, the extraordinary fact is that we can begin to experience something of this destiny even now, for already the Holy Spirit has been poured out and indwells those who follow the Christ. We already have a glorious “first instalment” of the kind of being we shall be in the world to come. Our glory will be, not that we become divine, but that God will live in us and fill us with his nature.
We need also to keep in mind the fact that wonderful though it is, the incarnation in itself is not sufficient to bring to us the forgiveness of sin by which alone the Holy Spirit may come and dwell with us and inside us. The incarnation can teach us of the love of God for us and for humanity, it can teach us of the “humility” of God and his great grace, and it can teach us something of the lengths to which God was ready to go on behalf of humanity. In a real sense it was truly a sacrifice on God’s part for us. But it was not the sacrifice for sin that alone could bring us back into the presence of God, forgiven and cleansed and thus ready for the indwelling Spirit. That took place on the cross. It was there that a perfect and totally innocent human being voluntary took on himself the punishment due to the rest of humanity on account of its sin, the punishment of being “cut off” from God. Such a spotless sacrifice could not have taken place without the incarnation for only in such manner could a “second human and sinless Adam” have been born.
The cross became possible because of the incarnation; the incarnation found its purpose fulfilled in the cross; the baby was after all presented prophetically with myrrh.
O come, let us adore Him!