“And the Word was made flesh.” John 1:14a
Incarnation! What a miracle, and what a mystery! It means: coming into or being clothed with flesh.
We might, of course, also speak of the birth of Christ.
However, that is not enough. The mere word—birth—does not express what really happened in that wonderful stable. Every person who ever lived was born. There’s nothing special about that! But no other person was ever incarnated. The latter, therefore, is the richer concept by far. It explains what really took place that first Christmas night. It tells us that someone, who existed before he was born, came into our human flesh—God’s eternal Son.
Incarnation! Remember that word when you and your children sing: “Christ, the Savior, is born!” Understand as deeply as you can: that birth of Jesus was the incarnation of the Word.
That incarnation, more forcibly perhaps than anything else, demonstrates the truth of Scripture: “By grace are ye saved, through faith, and that not of you, it is the gift of God. Salvation is of the Lord!”
That means, that nothing of all that pertains to the wonderful work of our salvation is of us—nor is it because of us. It is all, from beginning to end, the free, sovereign, eternal love and good pleasure of God.
Where is that demonstrated more clearly and beautifully than in the stable of Bethlehem? Of course, also all God does in us reveals that same free and sovereign, wholly unmerited and unsolicited grace of God. With us is only darkness, lie, guilt, death. Regeneration, that spiritual resurrection from the dead; faith, that gift of God; conversion, justification, sanctification; all speak of pure, undiluted mercy. However, that free and gracious aspect of our redemption is even more clearly revealed in that which God does for us in that blessed moment, wherein the Word dwelt among us, the fullness of time.
Indeed, that is true of all God does for us in the Son of his love. They are all miracles of sovereign grace. Think of Calvary! Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Did you have anything at all to do with that wonderful cross? And think of his resurrection! Who must not confess from the bottom of his soul: nothing of us, that no man should glory!
Even so, where is this sovereign grace of God revealed more beautifully than in the manger of Bethlehem? There is your salvation, and mine. There the wonder of all wonders, the incarnation of God’s Son, is accomplished in the way of the sign of signs, the virgin birth. There in the inn the miracle of your redemption takes place; the very heart of God’s marvelous counsel is revealed. There is the first link of that golden chain of salvation which God himself forged for us in the fullness of time.
“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
That did not happen when Jesus died, or arose from the dead, or even when he ascended to heaven. Did that ever strike you?
That happened when Jesus was born.
Our Heidelberg Catechism gives a rather adequate explanation of this wonder of the incarnation, when it says in Lord’s Day 14: “That God’s eternal Son, who is, and continueth true and eternal God, took upon him the very nature of man, of the flesh and blood of the virgin Mary, by the operation of the Holy Ghost.” So simple, and yet so profound! So brief, and yet so comprehensive! As a definition which young and old can apprehend, it leaves little to be desired. Such is the wonder of the grace of God.
“That God’s eternal Son.” The second person of the holy trinity!
He is the one and only person, subject, “I,” involved in the miracle of the Incarnation. “The Word became flesh” (John 1:14). “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son” (John 3:16). “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
Also, he remains the only person, subject, “I,” involved in the miracle of the Incarnation. When the Word becomes flesh he does not become a human person. The mediator is not two persons. He, who assumes humanity on Christmas morn is and remains God’s eternal Son. Whenever the mediator says “I” the eternally begotten of the Father is speaking.
“That God’s eternal Son, Who is and continueth true and eternal God.”
Hence, that eternal Son is God. Everlastingly he is coessential and coeternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Eternally he lives the full divine life in the full divine essence; possesses all the divine names and attributes, he is the righteous, holy, good, almighty, never changing God.
And, he remains true and eternal God, also when he enters into our flesh and blood. That never changes.
“That God’s eternal Son, who is and continueth true and eternal God, took upon him the very nature of man.”
That is the incomprehensible but infinitely glorious miracle of the incarnation, the adorable mystery of Bethlehem. Understanding that we don’t see in that manger a mere infant, helpless and dependent, but we see God’s eternal Son wrapped in swaddling clothes, and we say: What a darling baby? No! We say: The Word has become flesh, and dwelt among us!
Notice, he did not change from God into man, like the water changed to wine and the rod of Moses into a serpent. That is not the humiliation of Bethlehem. The Son remained what he was—eternal God. And he became what he was not—finite man.
And both these natures he united in his single person, the second person of the adorable Trinity. The unity between the natures, therefore, must not be sought in the natures themselves. They were not fused into one, somehow. The unity most be sought in the one person who possesses and lives in both natures.
Let’s stress particularly the phrase “took upon him.”
That tells us that the lowly birth of Christ was an act of Christ himself. It was not forced on him, but he assumed our flesh and blood voluntarily. It was not done to him, but by him. It was not a fate, but an act. We do nothing to our birth, the Son of God did everything to his. Christ is not working for us only at the end of his life; also at the very beginning.
It also tells us, that the birth of Christ was an act of infinite and conscious love. The manger is just as much an act of love as the cross. Between the two lies a whole life of love.
Hence, “He took upon himself.” That’s not a mere dogmatic formula. We are not interested in bare formulas. This is the voice of supreme, eternal love, for how well he knew that from Bethlehem the way could lead only to Gethsemane, Calvary, hell. Truly, neither voice of man or angel can express the love that is contained in this most basic of all confessions “that the Son of God took upon himself the nature of man.”
This blessed miracle of Christmas was realized in the well-known way: “Conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary.”
Hence, Jesus was born of Mary. That implies so very much.
It tells us, that he became real, genuine man. He was born as all men are born, out of one of the women of our race. He was flesh of Mary’s flesh, blood of Mary’s blood, bone of Mary’s bone, muscle of Mary’s muscle. He bore our flesh and blood, therefore. He was not a stranger to our race. If he had been, he could never have been our Savior, for then strange blood would have flowed from the cross, and strange blood cannot atone for the sins we committed. He was man like you and me, man like his brethren in the heart of Africa or on the most forsaken islands of the sea. Therefore he could save them. If you had met him on the streets of Jerusalem you would have seen nothing that was not purely human. Except! Somehow you would have sensed that you were in the presence of sorrow such as the world had never known.
Born of Mary he assumed the flesh and blood of the children. The Bible lays great emphasis on that point. The Son of God assumed human nature out of the seed of Abraham, out of the house of David. He entered our race in the very heart and center of the covenant line. Therefore he was the Lion of Judah’s tribe; the root of Jesse; the seed of the woman; the end and blessed culmination of David’s royal line.
Yet, wonder of wonders, he was without sin. This was true in every sense of the word. The guilt of sin was not imputed to him. The stain of sin did not cleave to him. Never was he guilty of even the slightest transgression of God’s holy law. How could this be? Christ knew no guilt because he was not a human person, but the second person of the holy Trinity. And he was without the pollution of sin because he was conceived by the Holy Ghost, who preserved him in Mary’s womb from all the stain of sin. Hence, he had to be made sin; our iniquities had to he laid on him; himself he knew no sin.
Born he was, therefore, of the virgin Mary!
There is the sign of all signs that confirms the wonder of all wonders—the incarnation of the Son. Not only was Mary a virgin when she conceived the Christ. She was still a virgin after she had brought him forth; the only woman in history of whom this can be said.
We know how the world has always ridiculed this miraculous conception and nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ. Such a virgin birth, they say, is a scientific and biological impossibility: The fools! As if all things are not possible with God. We shall not dignify such unbelief and proud folly with anything resembling a detailed refutation. There is only one reason why men reject the virgin birth: they reject the Incarnation itself. For one who believes the latter it is easy enough to believe the former. In fact, one who truly believes the Incarnation would never expect anything else than a corresponding miracle in the physical aspect of Jesus’ birth. For such an one there could be nothing more unnatural than a natural birth; nothing more natural than a supernatural birth.
Hence, conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary! An unfathomable mystery? Yes, indeed! So is the conception and birth of any child. How then could the birth of the Christ be anything else? Who will explain it? Not I! We agree with him who said: We honor this mystery most by being silent.
What does all this avail us?
Thus, and thus only, that Christ can be our head and redeemer, who can prepare eternal salvation for us, and us for eternal salvation.
Thus, and thus only, he can be the Lamb without spot and blemish to reconcile lost sinners with the living God. Now when he suffers and dies our nature suffers and dies. And behind that human nature is ever the infinite power of the divine to sustain and strengthen to the very end.
Thus, and thus only, our mediator can apply that redemption thus wrought and exalt our finite human nature to the glory God has prepared for us.
If only we may know that that Christ is our Savior too!
And what is necessary for that?
Eyes of faith!
Eyes that were opened by almighty grace!
Eyes that were made to see in his weakness God’s glory; in his swaddling clothes the majesty of God; in his simple manger God’s mighty throne; in his crown of thorns God’s crown of eternal victory for us.
Eyes like those of Mary, who sings: “My soul rejoices in God my Savior.”
Eyes like those of Thomas, who may look into the face of this Jesus and worship: “My Lord and my GOD.”
Then Christmas is really Christmas!