Magic and mystery are intertwined with Christmas. Even on the secular side of things, there are reindeer that fly, a magical being that gives gifts to all, and a snowman that walks, talks, and plays. The greatest mystery, however, is not how reindeer can fly or how Santa can visit everyone in one night but that a baby was born.
This Advent we’re looking at five words that describe the events of Christmas. Last week we began with the word declaration and examined the angelic proclamations in the Gospel accounts. This week we take up the word incarnation.
Incarnation is a theological word that describes a concept found in the Bible. It’s like the words Trinity and rapture which, like incarnation, are not in the Biblical text but describe truths in the text. Incarnation is more than the events of Christ birth but contains the whole concept of God coming to earth in human form.
Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem. Luke records, “Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:4–7, NASB95) As we read those verses we yearn for more detail. Matthew provides even less and simply states, “And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.” (Matthew 1:24–25, NASB95) This particular moment is captured in creches and nativity scenes in homes and churches around the world.
While Jesus was born in a stable, His life was eternally pre-existent. John begins his Gospel with a look to eternity past. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” (John 1:1–5, NASB95) “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, NASB95) The Word (Jesus) became flesh and dwelt among us, that is incarnation, that is the grand and glorious mystery of Christmas. Eternal, all-knowing, all-powerful, always present creator God came to earth as a needy, vulnerable, weak, limited human baby. Why?
Unlike the mysteries of how reindeer can fly, how Santa can visit everyone, or how a snowman can dance we actually know the answer to the why of Jesus’ birth. Jesus himself succinctly summarized, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NASB95) God didn’t choose to become human for a vacation or some kind of prince and the pauper exchange. He came to provide us the way home to Himself.
The mystery of the incarnation is not limited to one long ago moment in a Bethlehem stable. Paul explains, ““I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” (Galatians 2:20, NASB95) Christ lives in me. That moment when a heart turns towards Jesus, when sins are forgiven, when a heart is re-born, when a life is surrendered to Jesus is also a moment of incarnation. (Consider Romans 8 for a more complete picture.) Perhaps that is why Jesus was born in a stable instead of a palace. To remind us that God wants to live in the hearts of all no matter how dirty and dishonorable they may appear.
Or even more pointedly – God wants to bring the mystery of Christmas and incarnation to your heart. Like in a stable so long ago, as He has in countless hearts since that time, that Jesus would be birthed and alive in your heart. Incarnation is not limited to Christmas it happens all year round. Our lives may be just like a stable; dirty, smelly, and filled with crap. But none of that disqualifies us from receiving the Word made flesh in our hearts. I can promise you that asking Jesus into your heart and life will be the best Christmas gift you will ever receive.