December 17 Thursday Incarnation
“Light and love to all who live” – these words of a hymn seem to capture the essence of God’s saving action in the Advent of our Lord. They are also a vivid image and symbol of Christ and our life mission in him.
Among the first words in Genesis we read God, “created man in His own Image and likeness.” The nature of mankind, “male and female He created them,” indicates the equality of Adam and Eve and avoids a mistaken notion of male superiority.
Humankind created in the image of God is an especially valued aspect of natural creation that God esteems over all other aspects of His majestic works. It provides insight into the significance of the Incarnation whereby God elevated a human birth to divine status as Jesus takes on human flesh.
Now we can understand the birth of a child. Its meaning lies in what is destined to be Jesus’ self-sacrifice in a new and voluntary creative act to restore the Creator’s intent of reconciling all who are unnaturally separated from God from the beginning of time ay an inordinate ambition to be like God.
In failing to understand Incarnation as Jesus’ taking on of human flesh, ‘Immanuel’ – God becoming man – is to risk ending up with a saccharine birthday story. Yes, heart-warming as it may be, it falls way short of delineating the Glory of ‘God in His creative and redemptive activity. Just as well, then, enjoy Christmas on the level of Santa Claus and Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer and all the other superficialities of the season.
The letter of the Church at Colossae describes the Eternal Christ as “the image of the invisible God, the “beloved son.” He became perfection personified, in his person revealing the truth and healing power of God in His relationship to all Creation.
The Gospels image Jesus in a variety of identities, but foremost as the universal symbol of light and love. Acclaimed at his birth as the Prince of Peace, according to this epistle he first sacrificed his divine status with the Eternal God and later yielded his humanity on behalf of those lost in the darkness of sin. He was God’s own self-communication – that aspect of the Eternal that could be projected into this transient world. He had become the good shepherd who sought his lost sheep and then the lamb who gave his life for those sheep.
While tales of incarnation abound in mythology, none had historical reality. It was the Incarnation of the Christ in Bethlehem that was uniquely without historical precedent. As one commentator noted, the birth of Christ was like new wine, portent to burst old bottles, and not to be constrained by old wine skins.
The challenge at this Advent season suggests that we return from an inordinate focus on gift-giving and making seasonal merry to accent gift-receiving and living joyously throughout the entire year as a vital image and symbol of our identity in this babe of Bethlehem.
The German theologian Emil Brunner offers this poignant observation: “The incarnation and the cross form an indissoluble unity. The first is fulfilled in the second, just as the second begins in the first; all is directed towards spanning the gulf of the separation.”