The Real Mystery of Christianity: The Incarnation

41KdLW3GkCL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Merry Christmas! I wish you and your family a wonderful day as you celebrate the birth of our savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Here is a great quote taken from J. I. Packer's Knowing God to warm your heart this Christmas.

But in fact the real difficulty, the supreme mystery with which the gospel confronts us, does not lie here at all. It lies not in the Good Friday message of atonement, nor in the Easter message of resurrection, but in the Christmas message of Incarnation. The really staggering Christian claim is that Jesus of Nazareth was God made man—that the second person of the Godhead became the "second man" (1 Cor 15:47), determining human destiny, the second representative head of the race, and that he took humanity without loss of deity, so that Jesus of Nazareth was as truly and  fully divine as he was human.

Here are two mysteries for the price of one—the plurality of persons within the unity of God, and the union of Godhead and manhood in the person of Jesus. It is here, in the thing that happened at the first Christmas, that the profoundest and most unfathomable depths of Christian revelation lie. "The Word became flesh" (Jn 1:14); God became man; the divine Son became a Jew; the Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, unable to do more than lie and stare and wriggle and make noises, needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child. And there was no illusion or deception in this: the babyhood of the Son of God was a reality. The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is this truth of the Incarnation. (53)

Not Your Typical Manger Scene

When December arrives trees go up, decorations are strung, and gifts are purchased to celebrate the Christmas season. We go to party after party, eating cookie after cookie, to celebrate with our co-workers and friends. The busyness of Christmas hums along and it often isn’t until this week, the week of Christmas that things begin to slow down a bit. As kids get out of school, the Christmas parties complete, and the shopping list checked-off, now we can truly reflect on what makes Christmas so absolutely astonishing—the incarnation of God. christmas-jesus-pictures-hhmj99kf

The Mystery of the Incarnation

When we look to the Gospel we are astonished by its beauty and mystery. Yet, perhaps the most mysterious things is what actually happens on that first Christmas. God became a man. The Great I Am permanently wedded himself to humanity in the person of Jesus Christ. The son entered into his creation and was born in the most humblest yet extraordinary of circumstances.

Consider how demeaning it was for the eternal God to become a man. God has existed as trinity, Father, Son, and Spirit for all of eternity. But yet, in order to save us, God became one of us. Immanuel is his name. God decided to step into his creation. He stooped down from the glory heaven and entered into the earth as a man. At Jesus’ incarnation, the transcendent God becomes the immanent God. He becomes one of us.

Yet, the transcendent, majestic God of the universe stepped from the splendor of heaven and put on flesh and dwelt among us. Perhaps the greatest mystery in the whole Bible is the incarnation of Christ! Who could of imagined that God would do such a thing? To put on humanity would seem to be beneath him, but yet the God of love came to serve us by becoming one of us.

It Was Not a Silent Night

We tend to romanticize that first Christmas. Our manager scenes in our homes are quaint and clean. The reality of that night was different than the picture in our heads. Jesus came in a filthy stable, littered with the stench of animal excrement, and the rumbling noise of a barn. The arrival of Jesus wasn’t spectacular, but of lowliest proportions. That’s exactly what made it so extraordinary, God arrived into his creation not on a throne made of gold but a manager made of wood. The Christ-child came in the most unsanitary of conditions. “He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.”[1. Isaiah 53:2, ESV]

On Andrew Peterson’s incredible Christmas Album Behold the Lamb of God there is a beautiful track called Labor of Love the opening verse goes like this:

It was not a silent night

There was blood on the ground

You could hear a woman cry

In the alleyways that night

On the streets of David’s town

And the stable was not clean

And the cobblestones were cold

And little Mary full of grace

With the tears upon her face

Had no mother’s hand to hold

But yet, this was the way Jesus came to save. He came not as an entitled king, but the humblest of servants. Jesus did not come for the elite, he came for the nobodies, the rejects, and the failures. God, filled with empathy for his creation, identifies with us and becomes one of us. Immanuel is his name.

Remember, that Christ humbled himself in this way and took a form of a servant, for you and for me. By far the greatest gift we’ve ever received was the gift of God that first Christmas morning. It was the gift of himself. Do you know him? Have you experienced his love? Have you accepted him or have you rejected him? He suffered for you. He was lowly for you. He serves you. Glory in such truths as we worship the Christ child this Christmas.

Christmas is Better Than a Hallmark Card

We live in a hallmark card culture in which we overly sentimentalize the account of Jesus’ birth and soften some of the harsh realities of his entrance into this world. The shrieking cry of the mother Mary in the anguish of her labor, or the filthy smell of manure of that stable gets lost in our rose tented glasses. The birth of Jesus doesn’t really fit into the traditional Christmas-card vision we’ve created. The story of Jesus birth is scandalous which features a young teenage girl who becomes the gossip of the town when she gets pregnant out of wedlock. Its a tale of a couple forced by the imperial hand and a reminder of oppressive rule as they are forced to return to Bethlehem for the census. Its a lonely event as the lone couple gives birth in a stable many miles from their home in Nazareth.

The Christmas story is not a sentimentalized myth, but an actual historic account. It is grimy, noisy, smelly, and messy. And it is in this situation that God sends his son. It is in the brokenness of reality that God sends His son into the world to put on flesh and dwell among us. It is at Christmas the second member of the trinity cast off the glories of heaven and stripped himself of his divine privilege to enter into the most humblest of circumstances. It at this moment that the King arrives, not in a palace of gold, but in a barn of hay. It is this real world that God sends his rescuer and announcing his arrival, not to aristocratic celebrities, but to outcasted poverty-stricken shepherds. It is in this estate that we find the arrival of a son of God and it reminds us that Jesus is a savior who made himself nothing so that we could receive everything. The incarnation of the son is of the greatest humiliation and yet a poignant reminder that God seeks to bring hope to the hopeless, healing to the diseased, and mending to the broken hearted. It is in the incarnation of God that God becomes a man entering the darkness of the world to be its only light.

May our modern, cleaned-up, picture-perfect fantasy of the Christmas story be replaced by a modern, real, authentic account of a God who by grace enters the heartache of a broken world. In our sorrows may we rejoice that God has sent the man of sorrows, stricken with grief to be the savior we need. For Jesus was a baby born to die. The babe Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes would one day be wrapped in blood-stained burial cloths. As the mother Mary wept with joy over the arrival of her new son so too she would weep over his crucified body. Christmas must always be celebrated in light of Easter, for it is through the death of the son that life is given. Through the defeat of Jesus, our victory was purchased. Just as Mary wept over her sons birth and death so too she wept with joy in seeing her son’s resurrection.

The great glory of Christmas is this: The true king has arrived. The suffering servant is the resurrected King! Just as Jesus died, he was also raised! This broken world will one day be mended under the reign and rule of a divine and human king. The first advent must always usher us into longing expectation for the second. For just as the son of God entered into this world the first time, so too will he enter it a second. Though this time he will not come in a manger, but come riding on a white horse. It is then at Christ’s return that the tears and sorrows of this life will be wiped away as Jesus our Lord extends his righteous rule to the ends of the earth. Come Lord Jesus!

Merry Christmas!

The great has been brought low. The high king has become a peasant. The Lord God of the Universe stooped down and added humanity to his deity. What degradation is the incarnation! How great God has condescended to our low and helpless estate.

Yet, it was all from Love, to seek those who are lost, to cleanse those who are filthy, and forgive those who are enemies. It was love for his image bearers that the Jesus put on flesh and dwelt among us.

May this miracle of Christmas never cease to be remembered. God has become one of us. God is with us. Immanuel is his name. The virgin has conceived and given birth to a son. The shepherd King of Israel has arrived. The savior of the nations is born.

This Christmas may we ponder as Mary did about the birth of this babe. May the degradation of God in Jesus led us into worship.

This Christmas may we proclaim as those shepherd did, telling all what they have seen and heard about the Christ.

I hope your Christmas is merry and worshipful as you celebrate the birth of Jesus!

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

5 Ways to Have a Christ-Centered Christmas

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Don't have a Christ-less Christmas. As Christians we must keep Jesus in the center of everything we do. In our increasingly consumerism-driven understanding of Christmas, we must fight the current of culture and commit to making much of Jesus during this time. However, you might ask yourself the question? How do I have a Christ-Centered Christmas? Well here are five extremely practical ways you can lift up the name of Jesus this Christmas:

1. Go to a Christmas Eve Service

Christmas Eve Services are awesome. They are always one of my favorite church services of the year. Make it a priority to take your family to one this Christmas. If you are out of town visiting family, find a local church and visit them for their Christmas eve service. It is a great way to usher your heart and soul into worship before Christmas day by praising our gracious God who put on flesh for you and for me.

2. Invite a neighbor over for Christmas Dinner

One of the ways we can honor Christ is by reaching out to those around us. As Christians we are ambassadors for Christ, and what a better time to be an ambassador than at Christmas time? Schedule a night to have that family down the street over for dinner. Share with them about who Jesus is and why God sent him for us. Share the Gospel with them. Not only does it honor Christ at Christmas, but it spread the Gospel to those who so desperately need to hear it!

3. Read the Christmas Story Together as a Family

As a family, sit down and read the Birth Narrative of Jesus in Luke 1-2. It is a great time to spend some time in the Scriptures and foster family worship. I know many families that will do this first thing on Christmas morning, before opening presents and before the busyness of the day. The family will gather by the tree and Pastor Dad will lead the family in scripture reading and prayer. Dads, make a priority to start this tradition with your family. It is a great way to disciple your children and keep Christ in the center of your home.

4. Skip the Gift Exchange this Year

What? Are you serious? Skip the gift exchange? I know, I know. That is exactly what you are thinking. There is nothing wrong or sinful about giving gifts to one another at Christmas time, however I think everyone can admit that it does distract us from honoring Christ. So often the thing that Christmas Day centers on is the getting of stuff. It is a travesty and poison that American Marketers have been telling us for decades. How about one year, maybe this year, you take a fast from the gift giving as a family? Maybe take the money that you would spend on Christmas Gifts and give it away? This is something I have been praying about in my own family. Kaitlyn and I are not planning on doing much gift exchanging this year with one another, but we want to give generously to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, which goes to fund and support all of our Southern Baptist Missionaries over seas. Maybe we should do something a little radical this Christmas and be counter cultural for the name of Jesus.

5. Volunteer and Serve Others

At this Christmas time, why not keep Christ at the center by serving others? After all, "even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28). Imitate your savior this Christmas and honor him by giving of your time to serve other people. Get your eyes off of yourself and onto this dying world who needs you to show them Christ with your words and your actions.

Christmas is busy. It is so easy to get distracted by the next Christmas party you have to attend or the next Christmas show you need to watch. Don't let the busyness of Christmas distract you from keeping Christ at the center of your life and your worship. As Christians we must keep Christ the center of our lives in every season, not just in December, but this Christmas may we seek to lift high the name of Jesus for the whole world to see! The King has come. The savior is born. What great and glorious news!

What are some ways your family keeps Christ at the center of Christmas? Share with us in the comments!