by: Scott Little
The word “incarnation” is heard most often during the Christmas season, which makes sense, because it’s really what Christmas is all about. Incarnation literally means “to take on flesh”. In Christian theology, the incarnation means that in Jesus, God took on flesh and became a human being. John 1:14 says it like this: “The Word (Jesus) became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” I like how The Message Bible says it: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.”
I want to say two things about Jesus’s incarnation. First, I hope that during this Christmas season we’ll take a little time to consider that dying on the cross wasn’t Jesus’s only sacrifice for us. Before He ever suffered the indignity of the cross, Jesus suffered the indignity of becoming human in the first place.
Think about it. The eternal Son of God, who again, according to John’s gospel, was with God and was God and was there, creating everything (including humanity) from the very beginning, stepped down from His eternal glory to take on all the limitations and frustrations and vulnerabilities and complexities of being human. Not only that, He did it the same way we all do it – nine months in the womb, traumatic birth, the terrible two’s, childhood, adolescence, puberty, siblings, and the ups and downs of ordinary family life. The truth is, Jesus had already made all kinds of sacrifices for us long before the cross, long before most people had any idea who He was or why He came. Don’t forget to thank Him for that gift this Christmas, too!
But the second thing I want to say about the incarnation is that while it surely meant discomfort for Jesus, it offers a surprising comfort for us – not the comfort of salvation, which is obvious and not all that surprising, but the comfort of process. I hadn’t thought about this until a few years ago when I came across an article online titled “How Christmas Confronts My Faulty Thinking”, by Jeff Peabody. The subtitle is what caught my attention: “The Incarnation gives me permission to accept my slow progress”. Here’s part of what he wrote…
“Christians find process troubling. We want to rush people through their grief. We’re uncomfortable when forgiveness takes time. We look for instant healing and push for total transformation in others without any incubation period. Reflecting on the birth of Christ, here's what I realized: Jesus becoming a baby automatically put God's seal of approval on a slow process.”
I don’t know about you, but I’ve often gotten frustrated by my painfully slow progress in the Christian life (and life in general, to be honest). My faith calls me to grow in character and Christlikeness, and I really want to, but so much of my story is about slow, halting, struggling, incremental progress that, honestly, often feels like one-step-forward and three-steps-back. Sometimes it feels like I’m trying to follow Jesus up Mount Everest wearing cement boots! And as an impatient perfectionist (two traits that get along about as well as Road Runner & Coyote), coming to terms with the reality that growing in grace is a process (and a slow one at that) has caused me frustration and anxiety for much of my life.
But in the aforementioned article, the author makes the case that the incarnation means that God must be okay with process – in fact, that He ordains it! After all, if Jesus didn’t just appear on earth out of thin air, fully grown and ready to be the Messiah in an instant, doesn’t it mean that God put His stamp of approval on growing and becoming as a process? That’s why Luke 2:52 is one of my favorite verses: “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” In other words, Jesus went through the process of maturing physically, intellectually, and spiritually. Jesus had to GROW! He had to LEARN! (I bet He has extra compassion for kids and teachers doing online school right now!)
Jesus had to mature – and God was okay with that. In fact, that’s how He wanted it. So maybe God isn’t as frustrated with process as I am! Which also means maybe He’s not as frustrated with ME as I so often am! Isn’t that good news for all of us who are in process (which is all of us)? So let’s receive the gift of Jesus’s incarnation again this Christmas for all that it means – not just that He became one of us, but that He was willing to share in our becoming too. Merry Christmas, and Happy Birthday, Jesus!