By J. Luis Dizon

Christmas is about the idea that God became a human being. This is called the Incarnation (A Latin term that literally means “enfleshment”). If you were raised in a culturally Christian environment such as Canada, this idea wouldn’t seem that amazing. That’s because your culture has accustomed you to it. Yet historically, this wasn’t always such a customary idea to most people. In fact, in large swaths of the world today, it still isn’t. That’s because the Incarnation cuts across human conceptions of who God is and what His relationship is with human beings.

To understand this, it’s important to look at how the idea was received during Jesus’ day. Recall that Jesus lived in a devoutly Jewish milieu. They believed in an infinitely holy God, Who is totally unlike us. The Torah emphatically states, “God is not a man” (Numbers 23:19).[1] When Jesus proclaimed His divinity, this was met with controversy.[2] Though some fringe Jewish sects such as the Essenes were open to the idea of God becoming human, mainstream Jewish opinion as represented by the Pharisees and Sadducees regarded the idea as unthinkable. It’s one thing for Jesus to proclaim Himself to be a great rabbi and prophet, and quite another to proclaim Himself to be the Creator of the universe! Jesus’ claim was a major factor that ultimately led to His death.

It wasn’t just the Jews who had trouble with the idea of the Divine becoming human. When Christianity spread to the Greco-Roman world, it was met with incredulity there as well. Ever since Plato, the Greeks believed that the material world was too impure for perfect divinity to inhabit it. Religious groups known as Gnostics, who borrowed ideas from Christianity and mixed them with Greek thought, held that God didn’t even create this world, but that an imperfect lesser spirit (called the “Demiurge”) did, and that Jesus was sent into the material world to liberate those with pure spirits from it. Since matter was impure, Jesus couldn’t have had a true human body, but was actually a spiritual being who only seemed human. Where the Jews rejected Jesus’ divinity, the Gnostics rejected Jesus’ humanity.

Even today, many religious groups reject the idea that God could become human. This is true of Christianity’s largest religious rival, Islam. Muslims vehemently reject any possibility of incarnation. The Qur’an calls the Deity and Divine Sonship of Christ blasphemies worthy of hellfire (Q 5:72-75, 116; 6:101; 19:88-93). Jesus may be honoured as a prophet of God, but one mustn’t go any further than that, and those who do face severe consequences for preaching such ideas in any society where Muslims are the majority (Q 9:29-30).

We see that the Incarnation is a scandalous idea. Yet it’s a scandal that Christians must live with and embrace, for it is one of the most fundamental doctrines of our faith. God’s taking on of humanity affirms that despite its fallen state, Creation is still fundamentally good and worthy of preservation. Also, for those suffering through life’s tribulations, the Incarnation is God’s answer to the problem of evil. It points us to a God Who despite His majesty and sovereignty is not so distant from our troubles that He wouldn’t deign to wear human flesh to live them out Himself.[3]

Most importantly, the Incarnation makes salvation possible. To be reconciled to our Creator, we need a Saviour Who can properly represent us, but at the same time is absolutely perfect and of infinite worth so as to make satisfaction for sin before the infinitely holy God. Hence, only one who is both divine and human could be our Saviour. Thus, God’s eternal Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). Of this Word, the Carmen Christi, an early Christian hymn embedded in one of Paul’s letters, attests:

Though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:6-11, ESV).

If you’re a Christian, rejoice this Christmas, as the child in the manger represents the beginning of a thirty year journey that ends in the cross and empty tomb, which are what secure our salvation and union with God. Let this—and nothing else—be your main focus for the season.

If you’re not a Christian, recognize that your eternity hangs in the balance. God has made a way for us to know Him and be forgiven of our sins, and that is through faith in the work that He accomplished through His Son, Jesus Christ. If you put your trust in what Jesus has done, and not on your religiosity or any good works you’ve done, then you will receive the greatest gift of all: The gift of eternal life.

[1] This isn’t to say that God never appears as a human in the Torah. He does at times, such as when He appears with two angels to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre (Gen. 18). However, this is not regarded as an incarnation in the true sense of the term.

[2] Some heretical sects such as Jehovah’s Witnesses dispute that Jesus claimed to be God, but a proper exegesis of the New Testament inevitably leads to this conclusion. For a greater elaboration of this point, see Robert M. Bowman and J. Ed Komoszewski, Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2007) and James R. White, The Forgotten Trinity: Recovering the Heart of Christian Belief (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1998).

[3] This point is elaborated upon by Timothy Keller in The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (New York City: Riverhead Books, 2009), ch. 2.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s