“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1: 14.
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.” Ephesians 5:1.
I believe this is one the most breath-taking, mind-boggling, marvellously beautiful, and the most comforting of all statements anywhere in any sacred literature and any thing ever written by mortal man or inspired by God.
Let us think of the incarnation of God as the divine celebration of the human. By coming as man into the world, he was embracing humanity in a bear-hug. It is an affirmation of what we are as humans. I see the bear-hug embrace in the fact that he came to make his dwelling with man, permanently and eternally. On the face of it, this may sound scandalous but it is true that God came as man into the world. We do not read in the Bible of any hesitation on his part. It was in total willingness and pleasure. He was willing to die in order to deliver man from his fallenness and estrangement from God. ‘Nothing in fiction is as fantastic’ as J I Packer the well known theologian wrote. God became a man and made his dwelling with them, as them!
Unfortunately Christians have generally interpreted incarnation mostly in terms of cross-cultural missions and evangelism. Or to have the mind of Christ as humility, service and sacrifice. How sad, if we stopped just with that! It probably reveals the poverty of our thinking and the shallowness of our hearts! There is more to incarnation than just missions and evangelism. Knowing God in his incarnation is crucial to understanding humans, their life as finite beings – how to handle time, space, knowledge, issues of identity, security and more. Man had lost the knowledge of how he should live because of his fall into sin. Christ shows us how. He lived it. He demonstrated it right here on earth for a little over 33 years, before giving his life for us upon the cross.
In the incarnation God was saying to man that being human was not bad at all. That he created us the way we are, finite, limited and frail. After creating he looked at what he created and said that it was good. And that he himself if he were to become anything other than the infinite he is, he would be like man. What does God look like, if he were to take on the physical and the finite? He would be like man minus the sinfulness, of course. The only thing that was wrong with man was his fallenness and this happened as a result of wanting to be more than or other than what he was made to be.
Man has always wanted to be other than or more than what God has made him to be. This is the story of humanity. It was the crux of the first temptation in the Garden of Eden. The serpent suggested that he could be more than what he was and by eating of the fruit he could attain to the divine. According to the Bible this was the undoing of humanity. It led to an inherent dissatisfaction and to a perennial search for his true identity and security. It is this that made the people of Babel say, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves”. It was a search for identity, security and perpetuity. And it is the same spirit that imbues practically everything that man has done in history and continues to do even today.
The same spirit is behind the model of life that man has chosen. The model of the upwardly mobile! We all want to grow bigger, greater, richer and more powerful. We want to be more or other than what we are created to be, in everything we do from birth to death. Both the man in the world and the man in the church follow the same model of life. The one who rejects Christ and the one who follows him have adopted the same trajectory of living. It is the trajectory of wanting to attain to the infinite!
But the irony is, this is exactly God’s purpose for us. His purpose is that we experience the divine and taste the infinite in fellowship with him. But in the first temptation, man was offered an alternative to God. The serpent offered the creature (fruit) as an alternative to the Creator. That by our own efforts and independent of the Creator we can attain to the divine. Thus the creature became the source of humanity’s sustenance and living rather than the Creator. This not only constitutes idolatry but it led to prostituting of ourselves to something that is less than us. Man was thus making himself less than what he was meant to be and also became enslaved to that which is not God. This is the story of the human race.
How did Jesus do differently? First, the incarnation of God in Christ is an affirmation of His image in which we were created. If we did not bear the image of God, he would not have come as man and be born in this world. In all the universe, we were the only closest to God in likeness. As the psalmist sings, “You have made him (man) to be a little lower than God (Elohim).” The most seraphic of angles was not close to God in their image. Man was and is.
So friends during this advent let us celebrate the fact that we are human – in all our limitations and frailties we are the most God-like beings in all of creation. And that God has embraced and affirms our humanity. Hence the breath-taking statement that ‘God so loved the world’ that he came as man into the world to dwell among men.
Second Jesus’ way of thinking and living was not the upward trajectory. It was in the other direction, the downward, the emptying and humbling of himself. It was not even of holding on to his current position. It was of taking and affirming that which was less than him and making it his own. His incarnation is about the Great One who came as the simple one. The Almighty who made himself helpless and powerless. The Rich who made himself poor. The one who is infinite now living with limitations and being comfortable about it. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”
Friends, what is the gospel about? If it is just about forgiveness of sins and finding a way to heaven and does not affect the life we live, then we do not have a gospel to preach to the world. We cannot pursue the same things that the rest of the world runs after and expect people to come to Christ. The gospel has ceased to be the gospel for many primarily because we have chosen to live the same way the rest the world lives. By following the same trajectory of life as the rest of the world the church has lost her authority and her message and the Christian his witness. I believe this is the story of the Western church and unfortunately the church in the East is heading in the same direction. How tragic!
A strange thing has happened over the last two thousand years. Something that was neither demonstrated by Christ nor was taught by his apostles. Something that is not envisaged in the New Testament, if we understand it correctly. The unthinkable and the impossible has happened! Following Christ has become a religion! Christ is placed alongside the great men of the earth and his followers compared with other religions of the world! This has come about because, we have made following Christ a matter of conforming to certain forms, traditions and structures, rather than it being about a lifestyle that is totally antithetical and counter-cultural to the way the rest of the world lives. Worshipping God is about obeying him and living the way Christ lived. It is not about a form, a place or a system! Is it any wonder that the world sees our evangelism as a struggle for superiority?
The church and her leaders must learn and learn it soon that we cannot win the world for Christ by acquiring political clout nor by gaining economic power and not all through military might. Nor can we flaunt our big structures, projects and budgets and expect the world to be charmed to follow Christ. We can only regain our message and authority by taking the same trajectory of life as our Lord and Master in his incarnation. I hope we would take Apostle Paul’s advise and “Be imitators of God, as beloved children.” or risk being spewed out of his mouth!
Third, we find Jesus denying the creature the primacy of place in his life. In his own temptation in the wilderness he refused to make the created the source of his life. He depended on God for everything. He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.”
In fact, it was God’s plan that as finite beings, we were meant to live our lives in trust and dependence upon God. That in fellowship with God, by trusting and depending upon him for everything in life we can, not only experience the divine and but also the infinite. Christ points the way for us. Hence, he says, “Í am come that they may have life and have it more abundantly”. And again, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do”.
What is the best way to celebrate the coming of Lord Jesus into the world? The best way is to celebrate our humanity. We can do it by trusting God for everything. And by denying and rejecting anything and everything that usurps his place and supplants him from our lives. There are so many things of the created that promise to satisfy us and give us identity and security. For some it is their education, family background, the salaries they earn or the social status they have attained. For some others it could be the ministries they do or the church affiliations they have! I have written earlier in my book, “When you are in the business of seeking security and identity from anything or anyone other than God, then anything and everything becomes a source for pride and none of them sufficient enough to satisfy. Even humility becomes a matter of pride! Simplicity becomes a matter of greatness! A little can become a lot to boast about!”
Anything that gives us pride other than what we are called to be, both in creation and redemption has to be renounced, repudiated and rejected. When we are able to say as Paul, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ”, then we would have worthily celebrated his coming and also celebrate our own humanity. Only thus the strongholds of evil among humans would be demolished and vanquished.
May the Lord raise many such in each continent on this earth. Amen.
“We have seen his glory”
(A poem by Enoch Era)
We have seen his glory
The glory of God as Man
Great One as simple
Invisible as visible
Immortal as mortal
Almighty as helpless
Rich One as poor
Invincible as vulnerable
Infinite as finite
Sovereign as servant!
We have seen his glory
The glory of the Real Man
Real God as Real Man
Authentic God as authentic man
No more distant, no more far
Neither illusive nor obscure
No more invisible but now
Real, visible and vulnerable.
Visible and seeable
Physical and touchable
Vulnerable yet invincible
Humble yet strong
Beatable yet unbeaten
Killable yet never dying
Abusable yet not abused!
Small yet encompassing the universe!
He is God but now he is also man
They saw His glory. Have you?