Pastoral Perspectives

A Short Christmas Reflection on the Incarnation

In the season of Christmas, we celebrate the Nativity of our Lord, remembering the entrance of our Creator into His creation: God the Son crossed the infinite chasm between the uncreated and the created to be born as a helpless infant. Now, we may wonder: of what significance is the Son of God’s birth as the Son of Mary? Does the incarnation of our Lord have any significance in itself, apart from His death and resurrection?

The answer must be a yes. Of course, it is inappropriate to view in isolation any event of our Lord’s sojourn on earth, as if His incarnation can be properly understood apart from His death, His death apart from His resurrection, and so on. Yet, we should not turn our focus too quickly from His Nativity to His Crucifixion, as if nothing about His life mattered apart from His death. Let us still our impatience and pause for a while at the manger to join the Blessed Virgin in contemplating the joyful mystery of the incarnation. Our impatience often has to do with the assumption that the Son became human only to deal with human sin by dying on the cross. However, that is not the case: God the Son did not take on humanity primarily to deal with human sin because the incarnation would have taken place anyway even if humanity did not sin.

As St Paul writes in his epistle to the Colossians, “He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created . . . all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col. 1.15-17). Astonishingly, St Paul is referring to Jesus of Nazareth as the one in whom all things in creation hold together. He is the source, basis, foundation, and purpose of creation. St Paul is declaring that the incarnation was already in God’s mind (logically) prior to the creation of the world, making it independent of human sin—the incarnation would have happened, whether or not our forebears sinned. Why? Lutheran theologian Ian McFarland proffers that “God becomes incarnate because God wishes to share the divine life with us.” According to him, it is because “God has determined first of all to share the divine life fully with the creature that God brings creatures into being.” Sin or no sin, God wills to be with his creatures in creation and it is in the incarnation that there is the fullness of communion between Him and His creatures.

However, since humanity has fallen into sin and suffers the corruption of death, God’s sharing of His divine life with humanity in the incarnation also brings about the healing of humanity’s infirmed condition. As St Athanasius, the great church father wrote,

through this union of the immortal Son of God with our human nature, all men were clothed with incorruption in the promise of the resurrection. For the solidarity of mankind is such that, by virtue of the Word’s indwelling in a single human body, the corruption which goes with death has lost its power over all.

When the Son took up the human nature that was subject to death, the fullness of divine life (John 1.4) overwhelmed the power of death within it and thereby healing it. “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death where is your sting” (1 Cor. 15.54b-55)?

So, why should God come to us as one of us, in a way common to all of us—as an infant born of a mother? Today, many younger persons are fearful, or even disdainful of having children. Even though many may desire marriage, few desire children because they find the world an unsavoury place to raise them. There is something terribly pessimistic about this mindset, misanthropic even, that one has such disgust for their fellow humans that one has to “save” one’s offspring from them. This makes having a child a radical affirmation of humanity, that although we may have “messed up” the world, there is still a tacit recognition that it is filled with beauty, goodness, and truth that makes it worth bringing children into the world. In the same manner of thought, for God to have come to us as an infant through child birth would be the greatest affirmation of humanity.

Despite how “messed up” we might be, the Son of God became a son of man. This was unlike how the gods take on human guises to cavort with women in Greek mythology. The Incarnation is an enduring commitment to humanity on the Son’s part. The Book of Revelation speaks of this: “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them” (Rev. 21.3). The Son will dwell with us, and He dwells with us as one of us. If God, who is all-powerful, all-knowing, and unlimited by anything beyond Himself, chose to be born as a human infant, it is reveals the infinite worth of humanity (and the rest of creation)* in the eyes of God, contrary to dismal views of it. Our Lord was born like us; He ate, drank, and slept like us; He suffered the vicissitudes of life like us. By doing so, God the Son has freely inhabited all of human life, and by inhabiting it redeemed all of it.

Therefore, life in this world is sacred and blessed because of the incarnation. No matter how bad the circumstances we might be in, or how chaotic the world around us may become, when we gaze into the peaceful face of the infant Jesus in the manger, we are struck by the fact that life in the world is neither meaningless or worthless because God loves us and has come to us; He destroyed death, redeemed life, and brought about full divine-human communion. In that blessed Infant dwells the fullness of God, and is thus the hope of all humanity. The glory of God is a human being, and so we rejoice.

*Therefore God will not destroy creation, contrary to how some read 2 Pet. 3.10-12. God regarded his creation as “very good” (Gen. 1.31), gave his commitment to preserve all of it (Gen. 8.20-22; 9.12-17), and liberated it from futility by sending Jesus Christ (Rom. 8.18-25). Creation will be renewed, freed from corruption, and transfigured by God, not destroyed. 2 Pet. 3.10-12 uses apocalyptic imagery (of fiery destruction) to refer to how our deeds are all laid bare before Jesus Christ at his second coming in judgment. The same is used to describe the purgation of evil in creation that results in a “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”

Preacher Png Eng Keat

January 2, 2022