Course of human history changed
In Sunday's Gospel reading – Matthew 1:18-25 – Joseph is told by an angel in a dream that the child to be born will be called “Emmanuel” which means “God is with us”.
Our saviour didn’t descend to us on a cloud from heaven. Jesus had a human mother, bore human genes and was born into a human family, from a small town in Galilee, while Caesar Augustus ruled the whole world with an iron fist.
The good news of Jesus’ birth is that God not only created us but also became one of us.
The Christian faith teaches that we don’t get over our estrangement from God by acquiring spiritual knowledge or by philosophical insight. It teaches that only God, through an act of God, can solve the problem of separation between God and us.
In the incarnation, God “remained what he was and took up what he was not,” as Gregory of Nazianzus in the fourth century put it. God became human without diminishment of God’s divinity. And, in doing so, God’s divinity thoroughly embraced our humanity.
Our reconciliation to God is effected not by something we do, but by something that God has done, and continues to do in Jesus Christ today.
The incarnation, as it became articulated as a doctrine of the church, says that Christ is fully human and fully divine.
No one disputed that Jesus was not a real man. Nobody doubted that Jesus had a body. He used spit for some of his miracles.
After a full day on the road, he was tired and had to get away for rest and prayer. He got angry, especially with people who presumed they were right with God. He bled and cried out in agony on the cross. In every way, except sin, Jesus fully shared our humanity.
But he also said and did things like forgiving sins, performing miraculous signs and wonders and authoritatively speaking for God. He did things that nobody but God can do.
Jesus appeared to be so godlike, so at one with God, that he not only spoke in an easy and intimate way of God as “Father,” but from quite early on his followers spoke of him as “God’s Son.”
Let’s refrain from abstract theologizing about the incarnation. The miracle of the birth of Jesus, maintained from the earliest church and confessed in its creeds, is, in the words of theologian Karl Barth, not a cause for intellectual debate but rather a “summons to reverence and worship.”
I look forward to our worship next Sunday where we will worship once again the Christ child “Emmanuel” who was born in Bethlehem to bring us back to God.
NB Some text and ideas have been taken from Will Willmon’s Pulpit Resource, Vol 44, No 4.