But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
– John 1: 12-13
Last night I preached about the what and the who and the where of Christmas. The great cosmic inversion of God becoming man. The infinite mystery of the Incarnation. And now this morning I wish to speak about the why of Christmas? We know what God did, in his Son taking a human nature from the Virgin Mary. We know some of what happened in those early days surrounding our savior’s birth, but why did he do it? What end was in view? What did it accomplish? Why these acts and not others.
Why did the Word become flesh and dwell among us?
Because let's zoom out a little: If God desires to forgive mankind of their sins, and release us from the death-penalty we have merited, why doesn't he just declare it from the heavens? By divine fiat? Why not just wave the proverbial magic wand and make it so? It seems neater, and cleaner, and less painful to himself, and surely, being all powerful, he could do it.
Why come down himself, in the person of his son, and take on flesh?
I hope this sharpens the question even further: why the Incarnation; why Christmas?
The why of Christmas is this:
God became a child of man, so that men, could become children of God.
I'll say that again,
became a child of man,
could become children of God.
See, if God had have just waved his magic wand and said, 'you're forgiven', it would have accomplished our being let off the hook, but it wouldn't have saved us. Salvation is so much more than “just” having our due punishment taken away. It is being restored to a relationship with the living God, and not just any relationship: A Father-Son relationship! We get brought into his family as his adopted children. He makes us his own! And as a member of the family, we get all the privileges of the family, namely, life and immortality!
But wait a second. Perhaps you are thinking: 'I thought all those things: the gift of salvation and all that entails, I thought that was as a result of Jesus' death and resurrection, not just his being born as a human?'
And you'd be right! After all, Paul doesn't say to the Corinthians that he resolved to preach nothing but Christ being born, he says he preaches only Christ crucified.
But the end of Jesus' life – the crucifixion, is deeply connected to the beginning – to his nativity. As with so many important things in life, the End is contingent on the beginning. The Beginning participates in what the End accomplishes. The 50th wedding anniversary – as our friends the Gilberts celebrated last week – the celebration of a 50th wedding anniversary is contingent on the marriage ceremony.
And so it is with Jesus' life: The incarnation and the crucifixion are deeply connected. So yes, it is right that our focus as Christians is chiefly the cross. But if we look a little closer at the Nativity, we shall see that it is in every way a part of God's great saving work, which the crucifixion was the culmination of.
See, if a judge were to just let a murderer off the hook, setting him free to commit more crimes in society, that wouldn't actually be just. It wouldn't be right. In fact it offends Justice. Justice needs to be served. So in order to deal with the penalty our own sins incurred, a just punishment needed to be meted out. But if we were to be punished, then we would be lost to death and hell forever, which would defeat God's desire that we be rescued and restored.
So God decides to take matters into his own hands. HE would take the punishment on himself, in the person of his Son. But how does a God bear a man's punishment? How can the translation be made? It can't. An immortal God cannot be executed. No. The solution? God must become a man, to bear the punishment as a man, to satisfy Justice. So that's what God does. God the Son becomes a man, to take the just punishment for our sins upon himself. To be killed, as a man, and in so doing, to swallow up death with his own mouth. And so we see the necessity and the saving power of the Incarnation – it is the first part of a two-part work to save lost mankind. Becoming like us, so that he can die as one of us, to save all of us.
Becoming like us, so that he can die as one of us, to save all of us.
And so we see that the dark shadow of the cross, looms over the cozy nativity scene.
Just as we have it here, very fittingly [[Point to the Altar]] – the cross looming over the crib.
The crib beginning, what the cross completed.
So let’s look for just a moment at what is realized in this little crib.
In being born as a human being, God’s compassion for mankind now extended to experiencing its trials first hand, from the inside, as it were.
And as a poet of ancient Rome once said, “I am a man, and therefore nothing human is alien to me.” In living as a human, Jesus now knows what it is to suffer, and be sick, and have your heart-broken by loss. He can now relate to us at every level. If there was ever any doubt that God was far away and removed, now there is no doubt: He is the opposite of removed. He became one of us. So when we cry out to him in prayer, we know that he cares for us, and can resonate with our dusty, frail nature.
But as marvelous as this empathy is – that the God who is beyond suffering would himself suffer – this is really just the beginning. For if the Incarnation was merely for God to have an experience, we would still be stuck over here in our lostness.
No, in taking our human nature upon himself, he sanctified human life. He Gave all of life – infancy, childhood, adolescence and adulthood – he consecrated it to God. He lived each phase as it should be lived, full of the love of God the Father, and kindness toward all people. He did it right. And In so doing, he cuts a way through the forest of existence for us to do it right.
What was for many ages of man impossible, has now been made possible. Because having lived as a true human being, the way God intended, having healed the wounded soul of mankind with his holy divine nature, he then, through his Holy Spirit, imparts that perfect life to each of us. Fills us with his own power and grace and energy, through our baptisms and through our faith – or as St. John says in our Gospel this morning, through our receiving him and believing in his name, he imparts his divine humanity to our broken humanity.
This is some pretty deep stuff. Here’s a picture that might help conceptualize it:
Imagine a bunch of lumps of Iron. Lumps that were intended to be made into magnets, but had fallen off the assembly line before they could get magnetized. There just stuck, useless lumps of Iron. That’s us, in case you hadn’t realized. Now imagine that God is like a giant, powerful magnet.
It’s silly I know, but stay with me, because this is about the only way I can get my head around how the Incarnation works.
So, the Lord wants to turn those lumps of Iron into what they were made to be, but if he just zaps them all with magnetic force, then they wouldn’t have free will, so what he does, is take a tiny new piece of iron, and charges it full of his own magnetism. And he sends that magnet out into the world of all the unmagnetized Irons. Now, when these other lumps of Iron, of their own free will choose to come to the magnet, and come into contact with the magnet for a long period of time, lo and behold, they too become magnets!
And so the magnetic charge of God from the beginning, filling our human nature in the one man Jesus Christ, can now spread to all mankind, through a relationship by faith with him. And so it is that all of us humans can be saved, because that magnetic force willingly came down among us.
It’s an inadequate and sort of silly picture I know, but it’s roughly what the Scriptures testify to as to how salvation through the Incarnation works.
It’s a description of that marvelous process, of God becoming a child of man, so that men can become children of God.
Through the miracle of the Incarnation, we get to be magnets.
We get to live the life God created us to have in the first place.
We have God as our Father.
And when God is your Father, oh boy, that’s a merry Christmas.
No more being lost in darkness and ignorance.
No more being shackled by sins.
No more fear of death. Or want. Or pain.
But instead, from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.
Grace, you’ll recall, in the original language, first meant ‘gift’.
& God the Father is the ultimate gift-giver.
He gave us his only Son.
He gives us free forgiveness of our sins.
He gives us eternal life and life abundantly,
And on top of all of this, he, as St. James said,
He gives us every good gift and every perfect gift, from above.