It’s a perfectly logical question for this time of year.
The incarnation of Jesus: God becoming flesh in the form of a baby. St. John covers this pretty good in chapter 1 of his gospel account.
Here’s a hint: It didn’t have anything to do with Christmas. How do I know that? When Jesus was born they didn’t celebrate birthdays. His parents didn’t even use the Roman calendar we use to declare his birthday as December 25th. Maybe somewhere someone wrote down the day Jesus was born. Heck, we’ve got a 1 in 365 day chance that he was born on that day. But considering they used a 360 day calendar it’s safe to say that Christmas isn’t really about Jesus’s birth.
So let’s instead focus on the incarnation of Jesus the Christ. All of that birthday stuff is just a distraction from the really good stuff.
Christmas, from a religious holiday perspective, is about Jesus bringing the Good News to earth.
I’m pretty sure the incarnation of Jesus has nothing to do with having his birth celebrated by giving one another gifts financed by debt. Oops. Sorry, too personal?
And I surely know it had nothing to do with putting a ton of your churches resources into putting up decorations and hosting a pageant. God didn’t take on flesh as an outreach event. Yeah, I’m looking at you.
The incarnation, a quick review
- John 1:12 – “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” [Let’s be honest, we like this statement best because it has to do with us. It’s OK, it’s good news to us. It’s awesome news to become a child of God!]
- John 1:9 – “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.“
The Good News of Jesus is personal. I’m an evangelical and boy do I like that! It’s all about me, baby!
Or is it?
John 1:9 is oddly inclusive. It implies that it’s not just about me. And it’s not just about bringing people to church so that they can be exposed to the message of Jesus.
The incarnation of Christ includes bringing a more general Good News to the earth. To everyone. And for those of us (myself included) who see the incarnation through an evangelical lens… this idea messes with our theology a little. We talk a ton about personal salvation and accepting Jesus into our heart. But John makes it clear that there is some general good news brought to the whole world through Jesus’ light.
Think about the physics of bringing light into a dark room for a second. Let’s say you are in a dark movie theater. It’s full of people… a thousand of them. And suddenly the screen goes pure white.
Who does that white light effect? Just the people who chose to be effected by the light? Of course not! Everyone who was in darkness is effected by the light. Personal choice has nothing to do with it. Everyone in the room was in darkness and is now experiencing some sort of the benefits of the light shining.
So, as we think about the incarnation of Christ we must think about “What does it mean that Jesus brought light to the whole world, practically?”
It’s a lot to chew on. And I’ll step away, asking you to reflect on these two passages which I think move believers towards the reality that Jesus is asking us to bring Good News to our neighborhood more than he is asking us to grow our church. (Specifically, he is expecting Good News to flow to your neighborhood through you.)
Mark 12:28-31 – “One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
I love how the teachers of the law ask him a singular questions in Mark 12 and he gives them two answers. Take that!
Ephesians 5:8-12 – For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said:
“Wake up, sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
I love how Paul says, “You were once darkness.” Not, “You were once in darkness.” No, things were dark because of you. We’re all in the same boat there.