I seem to notice that Christians seldom think about the birth of Jesus Christ as much as his death. Some might even accuse the Reformation of overemphasising the doctrine of justification by faith. But Christmas is a wonderful opportunity to meditate on the incarnation of Christ. That God would take on flesh and become a man is a mystery that we ought to grapple with, though we will certainly never fully plumb the depths of this mystery.
As a group from my church went caroling at several homes this Christmas, a truth I had been musing on gripped my heart forcefully. As a thought experiment, I had tried placing myself in the shoes of a non-Christian hearing about the birth of Jesus Christ for the very first time. I thought to myself: how would such a person understand the marvelous truth of God taking on flesh? This truth shatters our reality. It is all very neat to imagine God as some sort of uninterested deity or some merry grandfather figure (in the sky of course), but to actually hear of a God who willingly becomes a man is absolutely puzzling. Why is it necessary for God to become a man? Why should he even condescend to do so?
I then wondered how best a Christian could explain this puzzling mystery of the incarnation. And as I pondered further, several things came together. First, there is a verse in the Christmas hymn, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, which has the following lines:
Mild he lays his glory by,
Born that man no more may die.
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.
Second, John writes in his gospel: But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (1:12-13)
I finally settled on the following phrase: the Son of God was born a man so that men might be born again as sons of God.
The incarnation was necessary for our salvation. If Jesus Christ had not take on flesh, he could not die in our place. But because he is a man, he shares in our humanity and can be our representative. And yet as he remains fully God, he is the perfect sacrifice that forever takes away the sins of the world. As fully man and fully God, his death purchases the possibility of a ‘second birth’ for the ‘sons of earth’. Men who are dead in their sins can be born again as sons of God. Jesus took on our nature, that we might receive the right to become children of God.
How do we become children of God? As John writes, those who receive him and believe in his name are given the right to become children of God. Yet at the same time, they are born not of their own will but of the will of God. This is another mystery that I will save for a later date, but it is clear where our part lies. Receive Christ, believe in his name. Receive the gift of Christ that God gave to us on the very first Christmas, and still extends till today. Receive the Son who became a man and died for our sins, that we might become children of God. Believe that he has accomplished all this for us and take your place as a child of God. Then let the truth of your new identity sink deep into every fibre of your mind, heart and soul and let it transform your every thought, word and deed.