The Glory of the Incarnation

By Steven Martins / December 30, 2015

Topic Person Of Christ

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The Christmas season has come, when we commemorate the first coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the current cultural snowstorm of political correctness, it is understandable, however, that few people this season are thinking of the gift of God’s grace to humanity.

Indeed, the public perception of Christmas has clearly waned from what it used to be, where instead of setting up nativity scenes and proclaiming the Gospel, the public is more concerned about festive coffee cups.[1] Even Santa Claus, whom many boys and girls sincerely believe in, has culturally become an integral component of Christmas in the West.[2] This fictitious character, a combination of a distorted St. Nicholas and the English Father Christmas, has sought to supplant Christ as the primary symbol of Christmas.

Historically in the church, that’s anything but Christmas. Behind all the trees, the lights, and the carols, there lies the reason for the season, what should be at the forefront: the birth of our Lord Jesus. It was a glorious day, when wise men came bearing gifts for the promised Messiah; gold, myrrh, and frankincense, gifts that symbolized the kingly, priestly and prophetic offices of his ministry. Shepherds rushed from the fields to witness the birth of the Lord in a manger (Lk. 2:15-20), the great “I Am” (Ex. 3:14; Isa. 43:10-11; John 8:24, 28, 58) taking on human flesh. As prophesied, he is called “Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14), which means “God with us” (Matt. 1:24-25), and his name “Jesus” is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew “Joshua,” meaning “Yahweh is salvation,” or “Yahweh saves.”[3]

This is the incarnation, the Son of God taking on human flesh, uncreated God entering creation. It seems unbelievable to many. For the Son, being of same substance as the Father, to take on human flesh to fulfill God’s redemptive plan may be difficult to understand, but it makes it all the more glorious. It was St. Augustine who said that the more incomprehensible the world may find the incarnation, the more divine it appears to us, having received the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.[4]

In his Sermons to the People: Making Sense of the Incarnation, St. Augustine wrote:

Christ was born of a human mother and hence has commended this holy day to the ages. He was born of a Divine Father and hence has created all the ages… Christ was born of a father [God] and a mother [Mary], but without a [human] father or a [divine] mother… without a mother He’s still a Divine Being; without a father He’s still a human being.[5]

The church council of Nicaea in AD 325 affirmed this truth, asserting that according to the Scriptures, Christ was true God from true God, of one substance with the Father, that he was eternally begotten, not made, and that Christ became human for us and for our salvation.[6] The incarnation of Jesus and his relationship to the Father may have been disputed by men such as Arius, but as time progressed, it was the truth that prevailed.[7] The young bishop Athanasius, later given the title “the champion of orthodoxy,” wrote various apologetics, two of which are On the Incarnation and Orations against the Arians. According to Athanasius, historian Ivor J. Davidson explains that:

“[O]nly the assumption of humanity by one who is himself fully divine could effect a change in this creaturely state; by becoming human and living a human life, the divine Word, who is in himself the true image of God, restored the image of God that is marred in us.”[8]

In other words, Christ could only offer us change, and could only forgive man his sin, if he is fully divine; if he is not, then he is powerless to redeem and renew man to reflect the image of God. Athanasius was right, and as we read in God’s revealed word, “the Word [Logos] became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). As commentator Donald MacLeod writes, “[t]he Son [of God] is the Logos” (John 1:1).[9]

Athanasius writes as to the purpose of his coming, in which Christ had taken “a body like our own, because all our bodies were liable to the corruption of death, [and] He surrendered His body to death in place of all, and offered it to the Father. This He did out of sheer love for us.”[10] Christ had come to “seek and to save that which was lost” (Lk. 19:10), to save man from lawlessness, to atone for the sins of the repentant, and to enable us to live as God’s image-bearers, his vice-regents, under his government. In the substitutionary death and resurrection, Christ succeeded where Adam had failed, and as ordained by the Father, his reward is the inheritance of the earth and all creation (Ps. 2:8).[11]

“Christ is not only God of very God; he is the new Dominion Man (Eph. 1:20-22),” he is sovereign King and Savior.[12] In Christ we can now carry out the Great Commission, the advancement of his kingdom through the power of his Holy Spirit. It is the personal exchange of death for eternal life, the salvation and redemption available in Christ, but it is also the exchange of a culture of death for a culture of life, a culture in harmony with God’s revealed word.

This is why we find great joy in the Gospel, because as St. Augustine wrote, “[Christ] wished to become one of our children in order to do something lovely for us; that’s to say, make us all His children, the children of God.”[13] This is why we celebrate Christmas, the glory of the incarnation, in which Christ, while “lay[ing] in a manger… the world rested in his hands. [And] as an infant, He was wordless, and yet He was Word Itself.”[14] May his first advent remind us of his second advent to come, and our calling to preach the good news of the kingdom of God as we await our Lord’s promised return.

 

[1] Jackie Wattles, ‘Starbucks’ Red Cups Stir up Controversy’, CNN, last modifies November 8, 2015), http://money.cnn.com/2015/11/08/news/companies/starbucks-red-cups-controversy/.

[2] Tanya Lewis, ‘Kids’ Belief in Santa Myth Is Healthy, Psychologists Say’, Live Science, last modified December 19, 2013, http://www.livescience.com/42089-kid-s-belief-in-santa-is-healthy.html.

[3] R.C. Sproul and Keith Mathison, eds., The Reformation Study Bible, English Standard Version. (Lake Mary, FL.: Ligonier Ministries, 2005), 1362.

[4] Augustine of Hippo. Sermons to the People: Advent, Christmas, New Year’s, Epiphany. trans. and ed. William Griffin (New York, NY.: Image Books Double Day, 2002 [orig. 1935]), 57.

[5] Augustine of Hippo. Sermons to the People: Advent, Christmas, New Year’s, Epiphany, 59.

[6] Mark A. Noll, Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity, Third Edition, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012), 48-49.

[7] Robert A. Baker and John M. Landers, A Summary of Christian History, Third Edition, (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2005), 65.

[8] Ivor J. Davidson. A Public Faith: From Constantine to the Medieval World AD 312-600, ed. John D. Woodbridge, David F. Wright, and Tim Dowley, Volume Two. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005), 64.

[9] Donald MacLeod. The Person of Christ: Contours of Christian Theology (Downers Grove, IL.: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 73.

[10] Cited in St. Athanasius on the Incarnation: The Treatise “De Incarnatione Verbi Dei, trans. and ed. A Religious of CSMV (Crestwood, NY.: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1953 [orig. 1944]), 33-34.

[11] P. Andrew Sandlin, The Full Gospel: A Biblical Vocabulary of Salvation (Vallecito, CA: Chalcedon Foundation, 2001), 18.

[12] Cited in Sandlin, The Full Gospel: A Biblical Vocabulary of Salvation. Robert S. Rayburn, “The Presbyterian Doctrines of Covenant Children, Covenant Nurture, and Covenant Succession,” Presbyterion, 22:2 (1996), 76-112.

[13] Augustine of Hippo. Sermons to the People: Advent, Christmas, New Year’s, Epiphany, 60.

[14] Ibid, 57.

As we continue the Christmas season, let us remember the enormity of God’s grace poured out to us in the sending of His Son.