Celebrating the Incarnation

Jesus' manger sitting next to the empty tomb

Celebrating the Incarnation

So, as you make your exciting (and inevitably stressful!) last-minute preparations for Christmas, I kindly urge you put down that tinsel, step away from the tree, and take a moment to reflect on the true meaning of the holiday: the blessed Incarnation of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. 

Nineteenth-century English preacher Charles Spurgeon expressed the awesomeness of the Incarnation with just nine words: “Infinite and an infant … Oh, the wonder of Christmas!”

Indeed, Christmas commemorates that wondrous moment in history when God, who is the infinite Lord of the universe, assumed the finite form of a baby. It is a celebration of the fateful day when God the Father decided (at last!) that it was time to initiate His plan for humankind’s salvation by sending His only Son, Jesus, to earth. 

Every Christmas is ultimately a blessed opportunity for us to recognize the lengths that God will go to save us and to rejoice in the fact that the Lord of Lords and King of Kings went as far as taking on flesh and dwelling among us. 

So, as you make your exciting (and inevitably stressful!) last-minute preparations for Christmas, I kindly urge you put down that tinsel, step away from the tree, and take a moment to reflect on the true meaning of the holiday: the blessed Incarnation of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ

What is the Incarnation?

The Incarnation is a central Christian doctrine that holds that God became a man in the form of Jesus of Nazareth, who is the Son of God and second person of the Holy Trinity. 

In Philippians 2:6-8, Paul the Apostle provides an early articulation of the doctrine, explaining that Jesus, “being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” 

The phrase “He made himself nothing” has also been translated as “He emptied himself.” Originating from the Greek verb kenóō, meaning “to empty,” this doctrine (known as kenosis) asserts that Jesus set aside His heavenly glory and willingly renounced the privileges of heaven by becoming “nothing… a servant… a man.”

This is the wondrous mystery of the Incarnation—that God “emptied himself” (though never once forfeiting His divine nature) in order to elevate our humanity to have a share in His divinity. “The Son of God became a man,” proclaims C.S. Lewis, “to enable men to become sons of God.” 

Spurgeon describes the Incarnation as “God taking upon himself human—a mystery, a wondrous mystery, to be believed in rather than to be defined.” Indeed, the Incarnation is a “wondrous mystery” because it marks that glorious moment in time when the infinite became finite, the immortal became a mortal, and God became a man. “A thousand times in history a baby has become a king,” someone once noted, “but only once in history did a King become a baby.”

Before the Incarnation: A Brief History 

Every Christmas, I have “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus” on repeat. A powerful, deeply touching hymn, the song poignantly captures Israel’s age-old hope for a deliverer.

After suffering centuries of persecution and oppression—including enslavement by Egypt in the thirteenth century B.C., captivity by Babylon in the sixth century B.C., and subjugation by Rome in the first century A.D.—the people of Israel are (at last!) blessed with their long-expected Savior. But, through the Incarnation, God upsets their expectations for the Messiah, who comes neither as a fierce military warrior nor a powerful king as they’d anticipated, but as a vulnerable little baby. 

As author and preacher Max Lucado so wondrously put it: “He came, not as a flash of light or as an unapproachable conqueror, but as one whose first cries were heard by a peasant girl and a sleepy carpenter. God tapped humanity on its collective shoulder, ‘Pardon me,’ He said, and eternity interrupted time, divinity interrupted carnality, and heaven interrupted the earth in the form of a baby.”     

Prophecies of Immanuel, “God with Us” 

The Incarnation of God in the person of Jesus was prophesied throughout the Old Testament. In the Book of Isaiah, the eponymous prophet foretells of the first Christmas: “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). The name “Immanuel,” meaning “God with us” in Hebrew, was Isaiah’s way of suggesting that God would someday live among His people. And, sure enough, some hundreds of years after Isaiah’s prophecy, and in a time and place that He preordained, God miraculously conceived in the womb of Mary, a virgin. 

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given,” declares Isaiah, foreseeing the Incarnation of God, “and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

The writer of the Gospel of Matthew ultimately explains that the incredible events leading up to the birth of Jesus are the fulfillment of Isaiah’s earlier prophecy. “All this took place,” he writes, “to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’)” (Matthew 1:22-23). 

Twentieth-century German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer passionately describes the wonderment of the Incarnation in his book, aptly titled, God Is in the Manger. “No priest, no theologian stood at the manger of Bethlehem,” he declares. “And yet all Christian theology has its origin in the wonder of all wonders: that God became human. Holy theology arises from knees bent before the mystery of the divine child in the stable. Without the holy night, there is no theology.”

Jesus: God and Man 

Following His miraculous conception and birth, that “divine child in the stable” grows up and learns carpentry, His father Joseph’s trade, and lives under the rule of His parents. This is what makes the Incarnation all the more wondrous: God, in the person of Jesus, leads the simple, ordinary life of a first-century Jewish man. 

Like everyday people at the time (and even now!), Jesus likes to sing with His friends (Mark 14:26), feast on a homemade meal, and tell a good story. He enjoys the company of others, no matter their social status, gender, or ethnicity, and surrounds Himself with a group of close friends with whom He spends most of his time.

But Jesus also feels hungry (Matthew 4:2), tired (John 4:6), and thirsty (John 19:28). He sweats (Luke 22:44), bleeds (Colossians 1:20), and cries (Matthew 27:46). And He experiences the full spectrum of human emotion, including anger (Matthew 21:12-13), fear (Luke 22:41-44), and sadness, once even breaking down in tears following the death of Lazarus, a close friend (John 11:25). 

As the Gospels so richly demonstrate, Jesus truly was Immanuel, “God with us.” He completely understood both the joy and the sorrow of real life precisely because He was human. This is indeed the wonder of the Incarnation: the eternal, all-powerful, and sovereign God of the universe becomes a man—a simple, ordinary man. As the writer of the Gospel of John explains: “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). 

Oh, the Wonder of Christmas! 

In his powerful sermon called “The Infinite became an Infant,” Spurgeon imagines the awe the angels likely felt when they first learned of God’s plan to take on human flesh. “When the rumor first began to get afloat among the sacred hosts,” he writes, “you may imagine what strange wonderment there was. What! Was it true that He whose crown was all bedight with stars, would lay that crown aside?” 

I, for one, share the wonderment of the angels. The thought that God—our big, all-powerful God—would lower Himself to become a little, vulnerable baby is beyond my comprehension. What—other than love, the pure, selfless, perfect love—can compel someone to reduce himself in such a way? 

“Infinite, and an infant,” marveled Spurgeon. “Eternal, and yet born of a woman. Almighty, and yet hanging on a woman’s breast. Supporting a universe, and yet needing to be carried in a mother’s arms… Oh, the wonder of Christmas.”

This Christmas I invite you to ponder with me the wondrousness of the Incarnation. Come and take a look into that cold, dark stable where a young mother, surrounded by animals and stacks of hay, cradles her baby boy. Gaze up at that bright star alongside the magi, who have come a long way from the East to worship the newborn King. Listen with the dumbstruck shepherds as the angels triumphantly announce the momentous birth of the “Savior… the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:11). 

Christmas is an ideal opportunity for you to pause and reflect on the awesome love of God. It is a wonderful reminder that ours is not a God who is detached from our reality or who sees us as beneath Him. No—ours is a God who walks alongside us, shoulder-to-shoulder, feet in the dirt. 

“And that is the wonder of all wonders,” wrote Bonhoeffer in God Is in the Manger, “that God loves the lowly … God is not ashamed of the lowliness of human beings. God marches right in. He chooses people as His instruments and performs His wonders where one would least expect them. God is near to lowliness; He loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak, and the broken.”

Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/jchizhe

Roma Maitlall fancies herself a bit of a logophile (from the Greek, meaning “lover of words”). Her lifelong passion for writing—combined with her love of Jesus—inspired her to study English and theology at St. John’s—a university located in Queens, New York, her hometown, where she always dreamed of becoming a writer. Now a full-time writer, Roma enjoys spending time with her wonderful sisters and family, learning everything there is to know about history, literature, art, and Christianity, and using her words to give glory to Jesus.

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