We call it incarnation. God becoming flesh. And we celebrate this mystery along with flying reindeer and toy-making elves every year, being sure to differentiate miracles from myths.
Christians call Jesus “the reason for the season,” celebrating his coming as “the true meaning of Christmas.” We attend services and sing carols, reminding ourselves about an event that was momentous enough to reset the calendar.
But for someone outside the church, one can imagine how the story of the incarnation might sound.
This isn’t Percy Jackson. Mary doesn’t claim that God came to her, like Poseidon came to Sally Jackson. She also doesn’t claim that God’s Spirit entered her womb and possessed a human fetus, creating a child that was born with an aura of mystery, eager to get his vocal chords mature enough to share the infinite knowledge in his infantile brain.
According to Scripture, this baby was a regular human baby with an irregular Spirit. Christians like to say that Jesus was fully God and fully man. Some would say “100% God and 100% man,” which I suppose is the same sort of math that allows us to give 110% on the football field.
I wonder if God created Adam with the incarnation in mind?
Christians believe that a distinction can be made between body and spirit. Paul said, “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” Jesus said, “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” If humans have a spirit and a body, could Jesus—who claimed to have existed before the incarnation as a spirit being—simply have taken on flesh, as John claimed, without having to become a 200% person?
We like to differentiate between his human and divine natures, but what if the human body was created to contain both at once?
Human bodies can be possessed by evil spirits, which seems to prove that a symbiotic relationship is possible. When believers receive the Holy Spirit, we don’t start adding percentages. We talk about God coming alongside us, guiding us from the inside.
But no matter how we try to explain it, the incarnation is something that all believers should spend some time with, and not just as some necessary prelude to Easter, but as a saving grace in and of itself.
Did God really have to come in the flesh? If so, why?
If God really took on flesh and “tabernacled” among us, as the apostle John claims, we should be able to gain a whole new lens into the heart and mind of God just by watching this person.
Rather than simply taking note of Jesus’ parables and sermons, making a list of rules for a budding Church, we can observe his interactions with other people, tapping into his personality, recognizing his likes and dislikes, observing his priorities, taking note of what he emphasized and what he ignored. This kind of study can be read back onto the actions of God in the Old Testament, and projected to the intentions of God in our world today.
“He who has seen me has seen the Father.” John 14:9
We can also see an example of what a functional spiritual person looks like. Jesus told his disciples that the Kingdom of God was at hand, but was also in effect. What did he mean by that?
I think he was giving his disciples an example of what it looked like for a human being to live a life fully yielded to the indwelling Spirit of God before Pentecost opened the floodgates to everyone else.
“Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.” John 14:10
To see Jesus is to see God, which is exactly what God wanted from human beings in the first place, people that were supposed reflect his image and likeness, expressing dominion on the earth through God’s creative power.
In an abstract sort of way, for the Father to send his Son into the world is sort of like an author writing himself into his own novel in order to save the characters. Apparently, it takes a human to save humans.
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason, he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Hebrews 2:14-17
This was not some problematic transaction where a distant, offended deity refuses to forgive humans without a blood sacrifice. It was the willingness of God to take on flesh, allow it to be crucified, then raise it back up into something new, something to be shared.
This new life is what we inherit when we join with the risen Christ by the Holy Spirit. This connection is like a marriage, allowing us to share in the wealth and reputation of our new “husband.” But apparently, it only works if both parties are, at some level, the same species. In this case, human.
“. . . being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross. Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Phil. 2:8-11
It wouldn’t make sense for God to make Jesus a king. As Creator, Jesus already was a king. If God had to make Jesus a king, it would have to be the Jesus that was born in the flesh. Only this Jesus was in a position to be promoted.
The human Jesus was a son of David, one that had been prophesied to rule forever. If Jesus left his biological ties to the earth when he returned to his Father, he could not maintain his claim to David’s throne. Somehow, the body that stepped out of the tomb on Easter morning had a very real connection with the body that was laid inside of it.
However, as Paul explained, this body was raised into something powerful and imperishable, something that was free of sin and death (I Cor. 15, Rom. 6). He also explained that, because of our connection with the risen Christ, our physical bodies will experience the same transformation, giving us a hope that extends beyond this life.
Without taking on flesh, Christ could not have redeemed it. Without taking on flesh, Christ could not have given us a new vision for human potential. Without taking on flesh, Christ could not have shown us the very personality of God.
What else does the incarnation of God reveal? How else can it save us?