The following words are those of my favourite in-real-life leader and teacher. The worship pastor of my church, Josh Frey is profoundly wise, disarmingly funny, quietly courageous, and deeply in love with Jesus. He actually lives the Jesus Way and he embodies grace, humility, and humour. He is the husband of my sister’s best friend and the father to my niece and nephew’s little buddies. I am so honoured and thankful that he agreed to share his reflections on the Incarnation for my blog this Christmas week. Friends, brace yourself for the goods!
My wife and I have four boys 8-years-old and under. It’s a busy and noisy house at the best of times, let alone cooped up in a pandemic lockdown. This year we got the Christmas shopping for our boys done early, because we felt like a lockdown was looming and wanted to make sure Santa wasn’t putting all of his trust in Amazon prime delivery. Luckily, we found all their gifts in record time, and Santa’s reputation is set to remain intact. With four smart and curious boys in the house, it becomes harder and harder each year to hide the Christmas presents in a place they won’t be able to find them. As my wife and I were trying to find a square inch of space in the house that the children had yet to inhabit, I had an idea. There was an army green Rubbermaid bin under the boys LEGO table that had been there for months since we first setup the table as a building station. It just sat there under the table, empty, nothing more than a place to rest their feet while they built their creations; it was just another part of the scenery. Just then, it dawned on me: let’s hide the presents in plain sight — in the box! I liked the idea because it was a bit risky, a bit dangerous; like what are the chances that they’d open this box that they haven’t touched in 5 months? Plus, how fun would it be to tell them after? The plan was coming together perfectly in my head, but before I could finish telling my wife my brilliant idea, she had already come up with a better, safer, and more logical plan. “Well it was a cool idea tho,” I said, to which she patronizingly nodded with a: “Oh ya, totally.”
In our home at Christmas time, we talk about baby Jesus, though this year we’re also talking about baby Yoda… but it’s mainly Jesus… and Santa. And it’s good that we talk about baby Jesus, about what it would have been like waiting for God’s Messiah, about all the joy and relief we would feel to finally see the one God had promised. But there’s more to this story, more meaning than we could comprehend, and it’s important that we don’t let baby Jesus become part of the scenery.
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.ISAIAH 7:14
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.JOHN 1:14
One of the most important doctrines I’ve ever studied — and none with a greater impact on my daily life — is the doctrine of the Incarnation of Jesus. This doctrine deals with the infinite mystery that is God becoming human. The creator became the very substance of His created ones. He put on flesh and bone, with all the limitations, characteristics, and quirks of any other human being. He became limited to time and space, limited to five senses and three dimensions, needing food and sleep to sustain Him. He put on every aspect of our very condition. The incarnation — God becoming human — is the foundation of the gospel, the good news for the whole cosmos!
If we’re not careful, we can look at this man Jesus, hear the story of His life, and miss the infinite mystery of what it meant for God to “cross the heavens” (Hebrews 4:14) and meet us here, on earth, in our form, in our language. If we’re not careful, we’ll miss the implications of what it means that God has joined himself eternally to humanity. If we’re not careful, we’ll miss the beauty of what it means that Jesus didn’t discard His flesh when He was raised from the dead, that Jesus is still human and seated at the right hand of the Father. It’s all too good!
I want to touch on three points of the incarnation, and then hopefully leave you with a little gift at the end.
(1) God comes to us
Immanuel means “God with us.” This was the hope and prayer of the people of God since Adam and Eve left the garden. Mankind has been looking for ways to get back to God; whether by building towers to the sky or religious ladders that get us nowhere, we’ve tried everything. The problem is that because of sin and corruption, we are incapable of knowing and enjoying the divine life we were created for. But here’s the Good News: God knows our condition and doesn’t wait in anger for us to get our “stuff together” so we can be friends again. God comes to us! By putting on flesh, Jesus meets us — all of us — in the depths of our blind and broken condition, at the very bottom of our abyss. He is the light that meets us in our darkness, and our darkness cannot overcome Him (John 1:5).
Therefore it is said, “When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.” (When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.)EPHESIANS 4:8-10
(2) What the Lord has joined together…
We’re used to hearing this phrase at weddings to proclaim the joining of a man and woman in covenant. The intimacy of being “one flesh” is one of the most powerful unions on the face of the planet. In Ephesians 5, Paul uses marriage as a metaphor and a starting point for us to begin to understand “Christ and the church” (v.32). When Jesus put on flesh, He entered our broken human condition, He descended to meet us at the bottom of our dark abyss, and there He made an everlasting covenant with us. When Jesus died on the cross, His spilled blood was the very consummation of the New Covenant, sealing this connection eternally. The incarnation teaches us that we don’t have permission to imagine our past, present, or future without the presence of Jesus. In Jesus, God has joined Himself to us! And what the Lord has joined together, let no man separate.
For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach.COLOSSIANS 1:19
(3) Jesus is still human
A massive part of the doctrine of the incarnation is confessing that Jesus is fully God and fully man. This means that Jesus is what God is like, and Jesus is the true image humanity is created in. In the past, I didn’t often struggle with imagining Jesus being God, but where my imagination failed me was understanding that Jesus is fully human. The incarnation keeps us from dehumanizing Jesus, which is a gnostic tendency that inevitably leads to trying to dehumanize ourselves in order to be more like Jesus. John writes that to deny Jesus’s humanity is “antichrist.”
By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. And this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming; and now it is already in the world.1 JOHN 4:2-3
After Jesus died on the cross, was buried in the tomb, finished His work harrowing hell, and was raised again by the Holy Spirit, He did not cast his body aside. Jesus took up His fleshly body — the very thing that makes Him human — and lives eternally as a human being. One of the first things that Jesus does with his disciples is eat a fish BBQ on the beach. This is utterly mind blowing. He’s human!
Adam is no longer the first word on what it means to be human! To be human is to be like Jesus. To be human is to fully trust and to fully participate in the life of God.
Because Jesus is still human, He can continue to identify with us in what makes us human. He knows our struggles and our fears, He knows our hangups and our failures, He feels the pain of our suffering and loss, He feels the weight of our depression and anxiety, He is present and aware of all that we face. He is also the divine genius that is working in us to make all things come together for good!
God does not sweep our human needs, concerns, cares, lacks, and problems under the rug, but takes them up, makes them his own, and answers and solves them better than we can know or desire.KARL BARTH
Jesus fully meets us in all that makes us human, so that we can walk with Him into all that makes Him divine!
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life — your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life — and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing that you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.ROMANS 12:1-2
Here’s the gift: the incarnation of Jesus gives us clues to where God hid the presence. God isn’t out there somewhere, twiddling His cosmic thumbs, waiting for you to get your act together so He can bless you with His momentary presence. Through the humanity of Jesus of Nazareth, God has tied Himself to us forever. He’s sealed this tie in blood, and baptized our entire life into His divine life. There is more joy and life for you than you could ever imagine, but it’s not out there somewhere; it’s always and forever right where you are. Fix your attention on God and you’ll discover that every breath, every meal, every diaper changed, every broken heart, every friendship, every cup of coffee, every wrestling match with your kids, every day at work, every long commute, every vacation, every hockey game, every lost loved one, every tear shed, every moment of your ordinary-everyday life, is ablaze with the presence of God. When the divinity of God entered the humanity of man, it didn’t dissolve our humanity — it made it sacred. When we practice mindfully placing our life before God as an offering, we’ll begin to see that He’s present and participating in it all.
God has hidden Himself in plain sight, and those who would be crazy enough to believe it are the ones who will learn to see it. This has been my prayer as of late, to open my eyes, to remind me, and center me to the truth. If you want, you can pray this with me:
Holy Spirit, open my eyes to see your presence in the ordinary today. Jesus, show me how you’re participating in my everyday life. Father, show me the joy my life brings you. Amen.
I told you it was good. Merry Christmas, friends.