As we wrap up Advent and begin to look forward to Christmas (liturgically speaking, Wal mart has been look at Christmas since October) I wanted to give a more theological look at the nativity and how this one baby coming into the world brought us salvation.
Incarnation literally means to become flesh. So the God that created the world in Genesis through speaking things into being takes on flesh. As John says in chapter 1 “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us”. This God that had been transcendent throughout human history since the falloff mankind literally takes on flesh to come dwell with His creation. Hence we have the story of the nativity. This is the reason the world rejoiced because God came down from heaven to dwell with us and he came with a purpose that would be seen later.
The child in the manger is not just a baby he is God. How can he be both human and God? Our salvation depends on him being both God and man, if he is not both we are not saved. The theological term for the nature of Jesus is Hypostatic union, the combination of both humanity and divinity into one person.
Throughout Church history there has been debate on the nature of Jesus. Theologian and Churhc Councils have were debating this in the 3rd and 4th century. So as not to get too deep into the argument and heresies, one misconception is Jesus is God but puts on humanity like a coat and is not really human. On the other end of the spectrum is that Jesus was a very wise person and not really God akin to the prophets of the Old Testament. Both of these interpretations are incorrect.
The original covenant was between God and man in the garden. Adam and Eve broke that covenant and mankind’s relationship with God was permanently severed. Salivation is not something we can do on our own, salvation only comes from God. This is where the nature of Jesus is important for our salvation.
If Jesus is only God and not man, God would die for himself and human would not be in the equation and would not be saved or back in right relation with God.
If Jesus is only a enlightened scholar, then only a human died and there is no divinity in the sacrifice and God in not involved and it does not rise to the level of God.
Therefore to be at the level of God and for humans to be saved Jesus (the sacrifice) had to be both fully human and fully divine. If that is not the case it doesn’t work.
So the baby in the cradle fully human in all ways except sin and fully divine and we see both natures throughout Jesus life. He grows in wisdom and has emotions like anger and sadness (human nature) but he also does miracles and healings (divine nature).
To bear this perfect hypostatic union God-man person, not just any womb will do. Sure God could have “Poof” appeared in 1st century Palestine. But he chose to come into the world as baby. To do that he needed a perfect unblemished vessel. As Jesus is the New Covenant he needed an arc similar to the arc of the covenant of the Old Testament (or from the Indiana Jones movie for those with more of a pop cultural understanding of things). To be unblemished it had to be virgin and without sin. God did preplanning for this when Mary was born without sin in the Immaculate Conception.
Mary was born into world without the stain of original sin that everyone is born. We have this stain removed through the sacrament of baptism. By Mary not having original sin the God –man is able to gestate in an unblemished womb capable of holding God. If Mary had not been born without sin she would not have been the unblemished arc of the covenant that God needed to bring himself into the world. As Jesus was conceived through the Holy Spirit and his father is God we have the Virgin Birth.
Jesus is the Son of God conceived through the Holy Spirit. The skeptic will say how is that possible? Mary asked the same question in Luke 1 34:35
“Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.”
So Jesus the hypostatic union of both God and man comes into the world to dwell with us and ultimately to save us from our sins and bring us back into right relationship with God.
So when you see a nativity scene this season, recognize the gravity of the scene. This cannot be diluted into a pretty scene of a child being born in a barn. But a powerful scene of the creator of the universe who spoke the world into being, becomes human while maintaining his divinity, to get us back in right relation with Himself.
That is the power of the incarnation.