Christmas is radically better news than we tend to think, because incarnation (God coming to live in a human body) means much more than we realize.
When we think of incarnation–particularly at Christmas–we usually leave out a huge part of it. Perhaps we could say that it has two phases, and God becoming human is the first of them, to which Christmas is our great signpost. Think of passages such as these, which all hinge on the message of Christmas:
- “The Word became flesh and lived among us.”
- “The Father and I are one…the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”
- “If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
- “He is the image of the invisible God…For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell….”
- "He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being….”
If you’ve ever been to church on Christmas Eve and didn’t get a chill down your spine, you were either highly distracted or the church didn’t leave room for the incredible mystery of the night–the fullness of God coming to dwell in a fully human being. Awe and adoration are fitting responses for what happened that night Bethlehem. Though we can’t comprehend how God came to us enwrapped in the flesh of a human baby, for the most part we still understand that this phase of incarnation is really a big deal.
The incredibly good news of incarnation doesn’t end with Jesus’ arrival, as if he were just some exciting package that came by special delivery from a far-off relative. Rather, Christ’s enfleshment means that these bodies in which you and I find ourselves in this very moment are profoundly different because of the way that Jesus delivers us through his birth, life, death, and resurrection. He did so in a body every bit as human as yours and mine.
If the meaning of Christmas were to stop with Jesus coming in a human body, that would be plenty to blow our minds. But Jesus’ incarnation still means much more for you and me. There’s still a second phase to be explored and experienced. His own promise to us was not only that our lives in these bodies could be different because he too had one and lived fully in his Father’s kingdom through it, but also that just as he indwelt that human body as he lived in first-century Israel, Jesus Christ now indwells you.
As the Scriptures describe in so many places, including these:
- "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”
- “Abide in me, as I abide in you.”
- “...it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me."
- “I pray that…you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
- “...the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
Perhaps the mystery here is best described in passages that point to both of these awe-inspiring, ongoing dynamics of incarnation–signifying both the incarnation of Jesus which began in Mary’s womb, and his ongoing incarnation in you and me:
- “I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”
- "As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us….”
Because of the birth of the child in Bethlehem, Christ is in you now–wherever you are as you read this. You are meant to house the fullness of God, which Jesus himself embodied. (“...in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” ”I pray that…you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”) Your efforts at a truly, deeply good life are no longer a self-help project, since–because of Christmas–it is Jesus' life in you that matters.
The gift arrived. The gift is the Messiah, living in you.
How, then, might you live today in a way that will allow his life in you to grow?
O God, who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(From The Book of Common Prayer)
These references are, respectively:
John 1:14, John 10:30,38, John 14:7, Col. 1:15,19, Heb. 1:3
John 14:23, John 15:4, Gal. 2:20, Gal. 4:19, Eph. 3:18-19, Col. 1:27
John 14:20, John 17:20
Col. 1:15,19, Eph. 3:18-19