Monday, December 15, 2014
Christmas: The Glory of the Incarnation
As we come upon another Christmas season, our thoughts naturally go to the story of the birth of Christ. Many of us grew up in an era, when this season was a time of school plays, carols and pageants all centering on a baby in the manger. We learned about Joseph and Mary, the three wise men, shepherds in the fields and angels bringing a message of "Peace and good will toward men."
There of course is another aspect to this season that puts the emphasis on the secular idea of Christmas. Santa Claus, reindeer, chestnuts roasting on an open fire and cold snowy weather (which of course, in Southern California we idealize, because we don't have to deal with the real thing). C'mon admit it you Christians, you like the secular stuff too, or are you planning on giving back all your presents this year?
We often lament in today's society, that we have lost the true meaning of Christmas due to commercialism and political correctness. I would agree with that premise. It is sad and ridiculous that we even have to engage in discussions about whether it is proper to celebrate Christmas in a public arena, when it is a national holiday. Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas? I don't think so! But, I will leave that discussion for another time.
Instead, I would like us to look at the meaning of the birth of Jesus, from a little different perspective. I want us to see the incarnation from a passage of scripture that is not usually associated with Christmas. It comes from the book of Philippians, chapter 2. Paul is asking the believers to have the same attitude as Christ and in describing that attitude gives us a wonderful insight into the meaning of the incarnation. Let's look at verses 6-11.
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross! 9 Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (NIV)
The first statement is that this baby, born of the Virgin Mary, is in His very nature, God. Some translations render it, "being in the form of God." I don't think that does the Greek word justice. The Greek word used here is morphe. In modern vernacular, it brings to mind the term morph (slang for metamorphosis), which makes us think of one thing turning into another. What is important to realize is, that though the form changed from spirit to flesh, the nature or essence did not.
The key to understanding this concept is the word used for being. The Greek word, huparchoon, denotes His continuous state or condition. It is unchanging. Why am I getting so technical here? Because it is enormously important to understand that Jesus did not become half god and half man. He was, is and always will be fully God, even in His incarnate state.
How then could Jesus be fully man as well? Paul explains this in the verses 7 and 8. These verses tell us that Jesus "made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant." The NASB translates it this way; He "emptied" himself, which is a more literal translation. This brings up a question. What did He empty Himself of? It cannot be His deity, as we have just shown by the previous verse, so what else could it be?
Although biblical scholars give some different answers, I think we can agree that Jesus emptied himself of some of His attributes. There is a verse in the book of John which I think is very telling. In the garden of Gethsemane, on the night Jesus was betrayed, He prays to the Father, "O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was. (John 17:5 NKJV) That would indicate that Jesus must have emptied Himself of that glory, most agree that it is the Shekinah glory. It is spoken about many times in the Old Testament. (Ex 16:10, 24:16-17, 40:34 are a few examples) We get another picture of that glory in Mt 17:5 where Jesus is transfigured. This is a glimpse of His pre-incarnate glory, which the world will see when Jesus returns. (Mt 24:30)
We also know that Jesus set aside His own will, in order to show Himself to be a servant, who always did the will of His Heavenly Father (Jn 8:29). In verse 7 it says He took on the nature of a servant (doulos), literally a bondservant or slave. Though we know that this word can mean a voluntary indentured servant or an involuntary slave, it is obvious by the context, that Jesus did this voluntarily. Why? In order to bring you and I into relationship with God. He accomplished that by His death on the cross for our sins.
You may be asking yourself why I chose to get into such deep theology in speaking about the birth of Christ. Well, I think that sometimes we focus so much on the miracle of the virgin birth and the stories associated with this birth, that we lose sight of the most important issue, the reason for His coming. It is not just about the way in which the baby Jesus was conceived. It is about who this baby is. This is the God who created the universe and everything in it. He is the God who created us, came down to live with us (thus the name Emmanuel), showed us how to live the life of a servant and though He was despised and rejected by man, gave up His life for us, because we could not live up to that standard. He did this out of His great love for us (Jn 3:16). How could we possibly not stand in awe of such a One? That is the true miracle of Christmas!
The question is, what will you do with this Jesus? If you have already received Him as your Lord and Savior, are you conducting your life in a manner worthy of the gospel? (Php 1:27) If not, repent, ask forgiveness and renew your commitment to follow and serve Him. If you have never yet surrendered your life to Him, I pray that you would do it now. Look across this page to the right and you will see a section on How to Become a Christian. Don't put it off. Receive Christ as your Savior and you will experience the true joy of Christmas!
I pray that you have a truly blessed Christmas.
God bless you and Merry Christmas, Coach