What does the Incarnation mean for us?
The Incarnation: the extraordinary, mind-boggling way in which God became one of us in Jesus. There is an awesome mystery in how God becomes flesh. It is incomprehensible but not illogical.
Christmas carols celebrate this truth. Take for instance ‘O come, all ye faithful’.
The second verse goes as follows:
God of God,
Light of Light,
Lo, he abhors not the virgin’s womb;
Begotten, not created:
O come, let us adore him,
Christ the Lord.
There are some powerful insights wrapped up in language that we probably would not use ourselves today. What is being said here – and it’s largely taken from one of the great creeds of the church – is something along the following lines.
First, the utterly perfect God – he who was ‘Light of Light’ – was prepared to accept being confined in the darkness of Mary’s womb.
Second, the infant Jesus is not something created by God but someone who actually is God.
Third, the carol encourages us to adore Jesus as God.
The Incarnation is so important that it changes almost everything. Let me draw your attention to two specific issues.
The Incarnation tells us that history has a purpose. The 18th-century historian Edward Gibbon wrote cynically that ‘History is indeed little more than the register of crimes, follies, and misfortunes of humankind.’ Yet if God chose to become a member of the human race then that shows his commitment to us and our world. We may not understand where history is going but if we believe in the Incarnation we can be assured it is in safe hands. The fact that God loved this world so much that he became one of us is a guarantee that our world has a future.
The Incarnation tells us that human beings have dignity and value. Our modern way of thinking has greatly distorted how we human beings think of ourselves. Once upon a time human beings considered themselves to be utterly unique and above everything else. We were made in the image of God and just a little lower than the angels. Such a view had its problems and was abused, but we knew who we were. Today we hear from those who understand biology that we are no more than animals. We hear from those inspired by technology, that much of what makes us special is either already, or soon will be, duplicated by computers. The combination of both views produces the conclusion that the human race is merely a temporary interlude between a world dominated by animals and one governed by robots.
On a practical level, business and industry view us simply as ‘consumers’ or ‘purchasers’. Politicians see us as no more than ‘the electorate’. Everywhere there are bureaucracies that treat us as no more than digits on a spreadsheet. You don’t have to be paranoid to worry that, in the modern world human beings are becoming disposable items.
The Incarnation stands utterly against this depressing view.
It’s an old idea that, in Jesus, God descended to where we are so that we might ascend to where he is. He became a child that we might become children of God.
Take home a truth for yourself at Christmas. God is committed to this world and to you. There is a value to this world and a value to you. At the start of the Bible it says that God created human beings in his image. Yet in the Nativity of Christ, God becomes one of us, and we now understand that we human beings are indeed in the image of God. To see any human being is to see something that God allowed himself to become. That truth has a meaning for everybody we are in contact with. Whoever you meet – whether they are a street cleaner or a film star, a brilliant student or a senior citizen, or someone from the other end of the world – when you look at them you see the image of God.