Incarnation: The Real Meaning of Christmas

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The Word of God is born! Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth and goodwill in all humanity! This is what the angel and the heavenly hosts declared about Jesus Christ.  This is the single most momentous occasion in the whole history of the universe.  The Good News is the God of the universe has become one of us, a human being as we are. This is what Irenaeus had to say about such an event:

So then He united man with God, and established a community of union between God and man; since we could not in any other way participate in incorruption, save by His coming among us. For so long as incorruption was invisible and unrevealed, it helped us not at all, therefore it became visible, that in all respects we might participate in the reception of incorruption. And, because in the original formation of Adam all of us were tied and bound up with death through his disobedience, it was right that through the obedience of Him who was made man for us we should be released from death: and because death reigned over the flesh, it was right that through the flesh it should lose its force and let man go free from its oppression. So the Word was made flesh, that, through that very flesh which sin had ruled and dominated, it should lose its force and be no longer in us. And therefore our Lord took that same original formation as (His) entry into flesh, so that He might draw near and contend on behalf of the fathers,  and conquer by Adam that which by Adam had stricken us down (Irenaeus Dem. of the Apostolic Teaching 31).

The Word was made flesh so that through His very flesh which sin had ruled and dominated in us, it should lose its force and be no longer be in us.  It is because there was a union with God and humanity and the whole of the human race has become a “community of union between God and man.”  This is a second century document expressing the very same thing we express today. It is through this union that God is able to step into our place and act on our behalf and for our sake to bring about our reconciliation. Foundationally, there is union between the whole Person of Jesus Christ and the Father.  There is union between the Divine Word and His flesh.  This Jesus Christ who assumed our flesh is also in union with the entire human race. Therefore, Jesus Christ is the only High Priest who is able to act as God towards us expressing to us in human terms through his human thoughts the very will of God for us.  While standing in our place and for our sake, Jesus Christ, as High Priest, is able to provide the response to God all that God requires of us.  God came among us so that we could participate in His incorruption. If God had not appeared, then incorruption remained invisible.  The Incarnation had to happen so that we were able to see how incorruption interacted with those who were corrupted by our own blindness.

So it was through the Incarnation that death had now lost its grip on us. The Life of Jesus Christ had now broken forth into the human race and death was doing everything it could to regain control. The battle had begun and it was all out war against the Son of God. The forces of darkness believed that if it could destroy the Word of God, then it could destroy Life once and for all.

And just as through a disobedient virgin man was stricken down and fell into death, so through the Virgin who was obedient to the Word of God man was reanimated and received life. For the Lord came to seek again the sheep that was lost; and man it was that was lost: and for this cause there was not made some other formation, but in that same which had its descent from Adam He preserved the likeness of the (first) formation.  For it was necessary that Adam should be summed up in Christ, that mortality might be swallowed up and overwhelmed by immortality; and Eve summed up in Mary, that a virgin should be a virgin’s intercessor,  and by a virgin’s obedience undo and put away the disobedience of a virgin (Irenaeus Dem. of the Apostolic Teaching 33).

We are approaching the time of year when we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.  In many ways, this event has been downplayed so much that all we see is the Word made flesh and that is it.  The ancient perception of the Incarnation is lost and the implications of such an event has also been lost with it.  The Incarnation is shaped according to the tradition of the denomination rather than what has been handed down by the apostolic tradition.  It appears to me that many in modern traditions are acutely unaware there is any fundamental difference between what they perceive to be the gospel and the ancient tradition which had its foundation built upon and drawn from the gospel, which they understood to be the very Person of Jesus Christ. They have drifted so far from the ancient church that any difference to their firmly held beliefs are largely (and mistakenly) regarded as heresy.  While the ancient church believed their ideas represent the whole scope of Scripture beginning with the knowledge of the gospel centred in the very Person of Jesus Christ, the modern church tend to have carefully strung set of logical dot points supported by Scripture with the general premise that because of our sin, we human beings cannot tolerate the absolute presence of God. In addition, there is a hugely Apollinarian concept of the Incarnation where much of the humanity He assumed was not from the stock of Adam but was replaced by a divine humanity with a divine mind.  This ‘new Adam’ was literally an Adam different to the original Adam, who was recreated by God. There are some who believe the Word brought his humanity with Him from heaven.

Sin had its origin in the flesh of Adam and it is through the flesh of Adam that sin must be defeated. Therefore: He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2Cor 5:21).  For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive (1Cor 15:22), this happened at the Incarnation.  So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men (Romans 5:18). This act of righteousness of Jesus Christ began at the Incarnation and ended when the stone was rolled away. Jesus Christ is greater than Adam. Whereas Adam was an ordinary human being whose act resulted in the condemnation to all human beings, Jesus Christ’s act, as God Incarnate, is far greater than any ordinary human being, thereby bringing righteousness and justification to all human beings.  It is more than just a legal transaction.  Through Adam, human beings were snatched away from where they ought to be. In Jesus Christ, humanity was brought back to where they ought to be.  They only way any of this could occur was for Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, to unite Himself with all human beings.

If we take this union away, then we are left with a divide of which we have no guarantee that we are able to cross. If there is union only with some human beings and not others, who determines whether or not we are united if it is not God who has united us in the first place? If the risen Jesus Christ does not represent God and humanity reconciled, then the decision of who is reconciled is place into the hands of sinful human beings.  In Jesus Christ, God has shown himself to be the impartial, philanthropic lover of all human beings by joining us to Himself in His own Person.  If this is not the truth, then who decides this is not the case for some and is the case for others?  Ministers? Pastors? Priests? Theology teachers? History has shown that when men wield the power to decide who is in and who is out, people are at risk of being subject to spiritual, physical and even sexual abuse and corrupt manipulation.  When the gospel is taken away from the Person of Jesus Christ and turned into an ideology conformed to the doctrines of denominations there is a widespread tendency to misrepresent it.

The gospel is a Person. This Person reflects precisely and represents the very being of the Father.  The Person of Jesus Christ who is the Divine Logos united with human flesh conquering death on the Cross through His resurrection, is the ratification of the New Covenant:

For this is the covenant of the testament that I will covenant with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them in their hearts; and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: and they shall not teach any more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest of them. For I will pardon and be merciful unto the sins of their iniquities, and their sins will I remember no more (Irenaeus Dem. of the Apostolic Teaching 90; cf Hebrews 8:10-12 & Jer 31:31).

This is what was believed in the second century and is the very same that was preached throughout the ancient church.  What they endeavoured to do was to trust in the Spirit at work in all people that they may decide for themselves the truth of what they were saying, intuitively. It is the very same that we endeavour to teach today.  The heretics through their own ambition for power and prestige fought hard to convince the church otherwise.  However, the church stood her ground. There was the confidence that God had united Himself to all humanity and through the work of the Spirit of Christ in them, they have the best chance at knowing the truth of God for themselves.

While some sections of the modern evangelical church might believe that the union of God and humanity is not the logical conclusion of the Incarnation, this was taken for granted in the ancient church.  It was only the enemies of the ancient church who could not make this logical step.  The Gnostics as early as the second century believed that only the exclusive numbers of chosen people who had special ethical/moral criteria to receive God were able to experience a degree of God’s Godness.   The rest were excluded from God.  They were outraged that the Christian appeared to have no criteria and were happy to include anyone into their community. Thus, they were given the nickname the katholikois (the catholics) meaning the universals.   Catholic (katholikois), in its original context, perfectly illustrates the nature of the people who make up the people of God.  The ancient church happily received this nickname in the same way they were happy to be called Christians at Antioch. Unfortunately, this term, Catholic, has been attached to Roman theology and is far removed from its original context.  It is high time we take back this term and apply in the same way the early church used it.  This earliest belief in limited atonement has somehow infiltrated the church and has seriously undermined the significance of the Incarnation. The Good News of Christmas is the coming of the Word of God to us as man and uniting us all to Himself.  To believe in Limited Atonement is a heresy today as much as it was a heresy in the second century.

When we think of the Incarnation, we think of the overwhelming generosity of God to not only come into the far country to find His wandering children but to lay hold of us and take us up into the very presence of the Father.  Jesus did not come to set up an exclusive club for the spiritual and the ethical elite.  He smashed down the barriers that drove people away from God and allowed anyone who so desired to enter into and participate in the fellowship of the Father, Son and Spirit. God took the initiative and showed us He loved us even more than He loved Himself. All He asks us to do is to let Him love us and in the power of His love we go out into the world and love others not holding their sin against them. Merry Christmas to you all.