When we think of Christmas Eve, we typically think of family gatherings, gift giving, and a nice meal. If we have young children or are young children, we might prepare for St. Nick to visit. We rarely make time for or appreciate the real reason for the season, which is the birth of Jesus Christ. On Christmas Day, the son of God came down in the form of a baby. He was born in a dirty manger. Have we really stopped in the midst of the busy holiday season to ask why? What is the significance of the incarnation for Christian theology? Also, why does it continue to be important for us today?
Significance for Christianity
I touched on this in my last blog post, 6 Reasons to Believe in Christianity. I believe that the incarnation is one of the top reasons to believe in Christianity.
In the incarnation, God took on humanity’s nature. This action restored the grace that humanity had at the garden of Eden. When Christ destroyed death for one, he destroyed death for all. St. Paul puts it this way,
“For if, by the transgression of one person, death came to reign through that one, how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of justification come to reign in life through the one person Jesus Christ” Romans 5:17
Jesus’ victory over death applies to all humanity as a gift. How one accepts this gift is a point of contention between Protestants and Catholics. This topic of soteriology is too broad for this post.
Reveals God the Father
Not only does the incarnation ensure our salvation, but it also reveals who God is to all. Jesus reveals that God is not some mystical guy in the sky. Rather, God is a real tangible person. St. Athanasius argues that neither creation nor the law is enough to remind us of God. Thus, God being a good king would not let us take other masters, but would come down himself.1 Jesus puts it this way,
Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. John 14:9b
Jesus confirms that through him God the father reveals his true nature.
Made Eye Witness Accounts Possible
Lastly, the incarnation made eyewitness accounts possible. Jesus was a real historical person. The twelve disciples claimed to have seen the resurrection. Yet they also knew Jesus Christ as a human being. All of the disciples died rather than recant that Jesus was the son of God. It is easy to die for believing something someone told you. Muslim martyrs do this all the time. It is harder to die for a claim known to be false. The disciples knew Jesus. Thus, if the disciples had any doubts about his claims, they would’ve had a harder time dying for the cause.
The above are great reasons to believe in Christianity, but what if you are already Christian? Why is it important to recognize the incarnation now? What does it have left to teach us?
First, it teaches that we can have a relationship with the divine. The Bible puts it this way,
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. Hebrews 4:15
Jesus understands where we are coming from since he has also been tested in a similar way. I once presented the above reason to a Muslim. She was quick to object. She said if God created us wouldn’t he know us. I must admit she had stumped me. Yet I’ve come to realize that knowing and experiencing are two different things. I can know that fire causes pain when touched. Yet I cannot sympathize until I experience being burned myself. I want my God to not just know humanity, but to experience humanity.
Second, it shows that God is not afraid of our mess. Sometimes we can think that we are unlovable or unworthy. The incarnation teaches that if God can enter the mess of a stable, he can enter the mess of our hearts.
Third, it teaches the importance of all life. God entrance into humanity took the form of a vulnerable child, who society did not welcome. Thus, Christians should welcome the poor, the lonely, the immigrant, and the unwanted. The incarnation teaches us the importance of accepting and protecting all human life.
Christmas is the celebration of love, and joy that stems from the coming of Jesus Christ, our savior. Jesus didn’t come as a warrior king ready to do battle. Rather, he entered this world as a newborn baby. The incarnation is significant. It serves as the foundation for salvation theology. It reminds us to love and welcome the outsider. Lastly, it teaches us that God embraces our mess. Christmas is a time when you gather around your family for a nice meal and presents. Yet please also don’t forget to acknowledge Christ’s birth.1. [st Athanasius On The Incarnation, http://www.copticchurch.net/topics/theology/incarnation_st_athanasius.pdf]↩