How important is Christmas? I fear that many Protestants and Evangelicals, in emphasising the cross and resurrection, underestimate the importance of Christmas. The incarnation is of staggering significance.
The God who created and sustains the vast universe became a human embryo.
Go outside on the next clear night and look at the breathtaking beauty and immensity of the night sky. Maybe you will see the Andromeda galaxy, the furthest object visible to the naked eye, (A galaxy is a huge group of 100 billion or more suns). If you do, then reflect on the fact that, according to astronomers, the light you now see left Andromeda two million years ago, travelling at 186,000 miles a second. Yet it is relatively close to us in astronomical terms.
God made, is present in and sustains Andromeda and a hundred billion other galaxies within our 12,000 billion, billion mile diameter universe. Yet he entered the womb of Mary – surely a miracle equal to creation itself.
The fact that God did this shows the importance to him of the material world. As the carol puts it, ‘Lo, he abhors not the virgin’s womb.’ God, In all his perfect holiness, united with human nature in Mary’s womb, The NIV Study Bible comments that when John says ‘the Word became flesh’, he uses ‘a strong, almost crude word that stresses the reality of Christ’s manhood’.
An ancient, but recurring heresy In the Church teaches that the material world is evil. It led people to believe that salvation meant to be set free from the material human body. It also encouraged some Christians down through the ages wrongly to regard sex as dirty or at least not nice. So celibacy, which is a divine calling for some Christians, was falsely regarded as superior to marriage.
The incarnation shows the world is not an alien place. It is God’s world. He loves, sustains and blesses it and everything in it. He is out there (everywhere) right now, working for the good of all his creation. And, through the blood of Christ, he will ultimately redeem the whole cosmos (except those who die persisting in unbelief).
True, the world system is under Satan’s rule and influence and this leads to behaviour and consequences alien to God’s loving intention for creation. But Christians have sometimes mistakenly assumed this makes the world itself an evil, alien place. Such thinking leads to an unbiblical ghetto mentality: thinking that God (more or less) only works in the Church or through Christians.
Scripture teaches we are strangers and pilgrims in the world. But that does not mean we are on our way to some spooky, non-material world. Rather we are on our way to a renewed, redeemed, new heavens and new earth. It will still be a material world,
The ultimate manifestation of God’s love for the material world is that Jesus took our humanity to the throne of God. Jesus is still God incarnate in his exaltation to the throne of the universe.
The incarnation also shows God’s love for humanity, he identified with sinful humanity (yet without sin). He was born (amid all the blood and pain of childbirth) into a poor peasant family of a despised racial group. He was born in a stable not a palace; a manger not a temple.
Further, the incarnation was essential so that God could transfer to himself the death penalty inevitably required on sinful humanity by his perfect justice. God, who is immortal could not die without becoming incarnate. There is no other way in which God could have saved us. He became human, identifying with sinful humanity under Satanic domination, so that, through his humanity, he could destroy this domination.
Finally, Christ showed us what fully redeemed humanity will be like. Before his death he showed how, by the power of the Holy Spirit, a man could live a perfect life. After the resurrection he showed us our goal: a glorious, powerful, imperishable humanity.
Without the cross and resurrection, the incarnation does not save us. Without the incarnation, the cross and resurrection do not save us.
© Tony Higton: see conditions for reproduction