Ask most Christians to quote their favourite verse and a good number will cite John 3:16. One of my favourite verses is John 1:14 ‘The Word became flesh and lived for a while among us…’ I thrill every time I read those words. God the Son chose to take the very form of a man! (Philippians 2:7) Because of his love for us he voluntarily laid aside his divine powers and became like one of us! He who existed from eternity past in unimaginable glory was willing to live for a while on this dark planet. More than that, he was prepared to suffer terribly and then be put to death in the most barbaric way so that we could have life in his name!
I don’t understand how God accomplished the feat of incarnating divinity into human frailty. Over the centuries theologians have tried in vain to explain this mystery. Most of these attempts ended in some or other heresy. Ebionism, docetism, monophysitism, applonarianism, nestorianism, kenoticism… the list goes on – one unpronounceable formulation after the other! I confess that I don’t even understand the Chalcedonian formula that Jesus was consubstantial with the Father, according to his divinity, and consubstantial with us according to his humanity. Consubstantial means ‘having the same substance’ but, to be frank, this doesn’t help me much. However, this I know – Jesus is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). I know further that God the Father was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him (Colossians 1:19) and that Jesus is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being (Hebrews 1:3).
I baulk at the idea of trying to explain how all this can be. We exist at present in what Einstein described as a space-time continuum. God is not limited to the dimensionality of this world. His ways are so much higher than our ways. I can’t even explain how light can simultaneously exist as both a wave and a particle. I am told on authority that it does. I choose to believe that it does. The biblical statements are clear – Jesus was and is both God and man. I choose to believe this. I feel no more need to know how God achieved this than to know how light can be both quantum and wave.
Just when did this miraculous union of God and man take place? Most scholars are unanimously of the opinion that it didn’t happen on the 25th December. A far more probable date is Jewish New Year of 3 BC. However, the Holy Spirit chose not to record Jesus’ birthday. Perhaps so that we would not overemphasize his humanness to the detriment of our appreciation of his divine pre-existence.
It is quite popular in some church circles to scorn December 25th. We are told that it was an ancient pagan ‘holy’ day and that we shouldn’t associate ourselves with it. But allow me to let you into a secret. It seems that something very special did happen on 25th December 2 BC. On that day, fifteen months after the birth of the messiah, wise men from the East arrived at a little village called Bethlehem. Any of the computerised astronomy programmes available will confirm that on that night there was a significant stellar event. The planet Jupiter reached the end of its procession through the heavens and appeared to stand still in the constellation of Virgo. From the vantage point of Jerusalem the planet would have seemed to be hovering brightly over Bethlehem! That same planet, which the ancients called a wandering star, was in conjunction with Regulus in the constellation of Leo fifteen months earlier. Jupiter was the king of the gods in the Roman pantheon. Regulus was a royal star of the Persians, and Leo was the constellation of kings and was particularly associated with the tribe of Judah.
What thrills me about Christmas is that on that day the world still comes to bow before the king of kings, the Lord Jesus Christ! Two thousand years ago the Magi brought him their worship and gifts. Their modern counterparts are still doing so to this day. Every Christmas the churches, all over the world, are filled with politicians, bankers, scientists, and scholars. Many of them don’t come near a church building at other times of the year, but on December 25th they flock in to sing carols of worship and to drop their money into the collection bag. One of the hymns sung in most churches on this special day is ‘Hark the herald angels sing’. Its second verse contains the words ‘…veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hail the incarnate deity! Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus, our Immanuel.’
Immanuel means ‘God with us’. The wonder of the incarnation is that God came to be with us. Through the Holy Spirit he is still with us. Because he came, we can be with him, both now and eternally.