The Incarnation

Most of the sermons posted on this blog come from the Sunday services that I have held at a local Jail, over the years. This one is from a service there this Christmas. Sometimes we just need to let Scripture speak for itself. And sometimes another worker of the harvest has already said something better than I could ever say it. That was the case this Sunday. (All my scripture quotes are taken from Darby’s translation.)

Christmas is this week. It comes again, every year, to remind us of the day that the Son of God became a human being.

This is the way it began according to the Gospel of Luke.

painting of the annunciation by Henry Ossawa TannerLuke 1:26-38…the angel Gabriel was sent of God to a city of Galilee, of which [the] name [was] Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name [was] Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name [was] Mary. And the angel came to her, and said, Hail, [thou] favoured one! the Lord [is] with thee: [blessed art *thou* amongst women]. But she, [seeing] [the angel], was troubled at his word, and reasoned in her mind what this salutation might be.

And the angel said to her, Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found favour with God; and behold, thou shalt conceive in the womb and bear a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus. *He* shall be great, and shall be called Son of [the] Highest; and [the] Lord God shall give him the throne of David his father; and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for the ages, and of his kingdom there shall not be an end.

But Mary said to the angel, How shall this be, since I know not a man?

And the angel answering said to her, [The] Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and power of [the] Highest overshadow thee, wherefore the holy thing also which shall be born shall be called Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, thy kinswoman, she also has conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month to her that was called barren: for nothing shall be impossible with God.

And Mary said, Behold the bondmaid of [the] Lord; be it to me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.

The story continues in

Painting of the angel speaking to St. JosephMatthew 1:18-25. Now the birth of Jesus Christ was thus: His mother, Mary, that is, having been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found to be with child of [the] Holy Spirit. But Joseph, her husband, being [a] righteous [man], and unwilling to expose her publicly, purposed to have put her away secretly; but while he pondered on these things, behold, an angel of [the] Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, Joseph, son of David, fear not to take to [thee] Mary, thy wife, for that which is begotten in her is of [the] Holy Spirit. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus, for *he* shall save his people from their sins.

Now all this came to pass that that might be fulfilled which was spoken by [the] Lord, through the prophet, saying, Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which is, being interpreted, ‘God with us.’

But Joseph, having awoke up from his sleep, did as the angel of [the] Lord had enjoined him, and took to [him] his wife, and knew her not until she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name Jesus.

Then it wraps up back in

Luke chapter 2: But it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census should be made of all the habitable world. The census itself first took place when Cyrenius had the government of Syria. And all went to be inscribed in the census roll, each to his own city: and Joseph also went up from Galilee out of the city Nazareth to Judaea, to David’s city, the which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, to be inscribed in the census roll with Mary who was betrothed to him [as his] wife, she being great with child. And it came to pass, while they were there, the days of her giving birth [to her child] were fulfilled, and she brought forth her first-born son, and wrapped him up in swaddling-clothes and laid him in the manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

painting of the annunciation to the shepherdsAnd there were shepherds in that country abiding without, and keeping watch by night over their flock. And lo, an angel of [the] Lord was there by them, and [the] glory of [the] Lord shone around them, and they feared [with] great fear. And the angel said to them, Fear not, for behold, I announce to you glad tidings of great joy, which shall be to all the people; for to-day a Saviour has been born to you in David’s city, who is Christ [the] Lord. And this is the sign to you: ye shall find a babe wrapped in swaddling-clothes, and lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good pleasure in men.

And it came to pass, as the angels departed from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, Let us make our way then now as far as Bethlehem, and let us see this thing that is come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us. And they came with haste, and found both Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in the manger; and having seen [it] they made known about the country the thing which had been said to them concerning this child.

And all who heard [it] wondered at the things said to them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things [in her mind], pondering [them] in her heart.
And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all things which they had heard and seen, as it had been said to them.

What Child is this?

We have all heard the story before, but it is good every year to re-live it. In this reading of it I want to point out five things that we heard said about this Child.

  1. He would be called, Son of God.Messiah written in Hebrew
  2. He would be given the throne of King David, his ancestor.
  3. His name was to be Jesus – that is Jehoshua or Joshua (Yeshua) which means Yahweh (Jehovah) the Lord is our salvation. BECAUSE He has come to save us from our sins.
  4. He will be the fulfillment of the prophecy that God will be with us – Emmanuel.
  5. And the angels speaking to the shepherds added: this Savior is the same as the Promised Messiah: Christ the Lord.

This is who was born that day. And the reason this day is so important is that it is the beginning of the culmination of God’s plan that was set in motion at the very beginning, back in Genesis, to save humanity.

Sometimes we don’t think about the whole issue of the sins of mankind or the price that had to be paid for them until we get to the Easter story, to Holy Week, to Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. But it is all the same story and we can’t miss it if we are listening.

He was born among us because we needed saving.

And the thing we needed saving from is our sins. That’s the whole point of Christmas.

When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden and passed on to all their children the consequences of knowing all that can be known about good and evil, all those children, throughout history down to our day, have chosen evil. We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Paul says it in Romans. Isaiah the prophet said it too, we all make choices that destroy our lives and the lives of those we love, and we can’t stop on our own. In fact, no human being can ever fix this problem:

Michaelangelo's painting of Isaiah the prophetIsaiah 59:11-16 We look for justice, but find none; for deliverance, but it is far away. For our offenses are many in your sight, and our sins testify against us. Our offenses are ever with us, and we acknowledge our iniquities: rebellion and treachery against the Lord, turning our backs on our God, inciting revolt and oppression, uttering lies our hearts have conceived. So justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey.

The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice. He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm achieved salvation for him, and his own righteousness sustained him.

That was the state of affairs in Isaiah’s day, so it is today. You see, no matter what we have done, how we have lived, all of us come to a day when we want things to go right, for the right thing to happen for us… even to a day when in desperation we want to ask God for help. But in that day, Isaiah says, our own sins testify against us. How could a Just God lend us a hand, after all we have done to ignore him and all we have done against His children?

God saw that no one could fix this problem, so He fixed it Himself. And the only way to fix the problem was to send His own Son to become one of us. To do what has to seem impossible to any sane person: For God the Infinite and Eternal, the maker of the universe, to become a human being. How can the limitless be confined to a finite human body? How can the timeless, indeed, the inventor of time itself, be constrained within the passage of seconds, minutes, years? Surely, if anyone can do it, God can (unless we artificially limit the meaning of the word God.) This is what is called the mystery of the Incarnation – God became flesh and dwelt among us, as John says in his gospel.

Why did it have to be this way?

But, why did this have to happen? Why was this the only way to do it? There are two modern parables that try to explain this, and I would like to read them to you. The first one is called The Hindu and the Ant Hill, by Bill Bright (founder of Campus Crusade for Christ).

There was a man from India who was a devout member of a Hindu sect and who had a profound sense of reverence for life. He would not kill an ant, a cow, or even a cobra, because to him, due to his belief in reincarnation, he might be killing some past relative.

During his visit to America, he had been confronted with the claims of Christ, yet he could not grasp the biblical truth that God actually visited this planet in the flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. He could not comprehend how the Great Creator God of the Universe could become a man, or why.

photo of an antOne day as he was walking in the field meditating upon this new truth about Jesus the Christ being God, he was wondering how this could possibly be. He ran across a large anthill with thousands of little ants scurrying around in their busy like manner. He was standing there observing with wonder the activity of these ants, and what amazing creatures they are, when suddenly, he heard a tremendous and threatening noise. It was the noise of a large tractor plowing the fields.

As he looked up he discovered that the tractor would soon be plowing through that ant hill and thousands of ants would probably be killed and their home destroyed. Gripped with the same concern you and I would feel for hundreds of people trapped in a burning building, he became frantic. He wanted to warn them of their impending destruction.
He thought to himself, “How can I warn them? If I could write in the sand, they wouldn’t be able to read it. If I shouted to them, they wouldn’t understand me. The only possible way I could communicate with them would be by becoming an ant, if I had that ability.”

Then suddenly he had a revelation from the Spirit of God. He saw why God, the Creator of the universe, chose to become one of us by becoming a man, in the Person of the God-man, Jesus of Nazareth. Through his experience with the ant hill, the light suddenly came on in the heart of that Hindu man, and now he understood the words of Paul: “Though he [Jesus] was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God. He made himself nothing; he took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form” (Philippians 2:6-7, NLT).

The point is that just like an ant could have no hope of ever understanding the words of a man and listen to his warning cries, in the same way, for us to truly understand God’s voice and purpose, required Him becoming one of us.

But there is more to it than that.

And the second parable brings it out well: It is called The King and the Maiden; a parable of Søren Kierkegaard, condensed by Ken Boa (founder of Reflections Ministries;

Suppose there was a king who loved a humble maiden.

The king was like no other king. Every statesman trembled before his power. No one dared breathe a word against him, for he had the strength to crush all opponents. And yet this mighty king was melted by love for a humble maiden.

How could he declare his love for her? In an odd sort of way, his very kingliness tied his hands. If he brought her to the palace and crowned her head with jewels and clothed her body in royal robes, she would surely not resist—no one dared resist him. But would she love him?
She would say she loved him, of course, but would she truly? Or would she live with him in fear, nursing a private grief for the life she had left behind. Would she be happy at his side?

How could he know?

If he rode to her forest cottage in his royal carriage, with an armed escort waving bright banners, that too would overwhelm her. He did not want a cringing subject. He wanted a lover, an equal. He wanted her to forget that he was a king and she a humble maiden and to let shared love cross over the gulf between them. For it is only in love that the unequal can be made equal.

The king, convinced he could not elevate the maiden without crushing her freedom, resolved to descend. He clothed himself as a beggar and approached her cottage incognito, with a worn cloak fluttering loosely about him. It was no mere disguise, but a new identity he took on. He renounced the throne to try to win her hand.

And that is the bottom line. God became man because He Loved us.

It was out of Love that He created us in the first place. It was out of Love that He gave us free will. Because without free will, you cannot love. Without free will, we would have been mere robots; yes, we could do everything He commanded us, but we could have never loved Him.

See, if you go back to Genesis, to the very beginning, you realize that when God created man, He did an amazing thing: He created us in His image. He gave us spirit, the same kind of Spirit that He is. That is how we are like Him; certainly it is not this flesh and blood; but what is really us, what is really me, that which lives in this heart and mind, that which makes choices, that in us which can recognize and feel love… and give love. He wanted to share with us eternity, to live with Him as His children in a relationship of love.

But that one necessary ingredient that comes with being living spirits – free will – did us in! We used it to destroy ourselves. He knew it was coming. And He knew what it would take to fix it: to give us the power to reject sin and to be able to love freely. Since sin brought death to our life, the only way to wipe out the power of sin was for someone to die in my place, your place, in the place of every person ever born or ever to be born. But to die takes a human being. To die for ALL humanity takes an Infinite Being: God Himself. That was the price, and He chose to pay it; because He Loves us.

That’s the story of Christmas.

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