Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Incarnation

Reading through some of my favorite sections of Irenaeus and Athanasius it struck me again how full of wonder they were over the incarnation. They did not think of the incarnation as a means to another end. The gift is Jesus himself. The Father’s Son became a human being, one of us. The simple point of such an amazing move is that he wanted to be with us, and to share life with us. Immanuel, of course, means just that. Although technically Immanuel means ‘God with us,’ the God who came to be with us is a God of relationship. The Son did not come alone. He became human as the Father’s Son and as the One who dwells in the Holy Spirit. So he brought his relationship with his Father and his relationship with the Holy Spirit into his incarnate relationship with us, and indeed all creation.

Being so preoccupied with legalities has largely blinded us in the West to such an astounding gift. We have separated the gift from the person. The cross has become more important than Jesus. The incarnation has become a means to another end. But it is not the cross or the death of Jesus that is central to the gospel. The heart of Christianity is Jesus himself. To be sure, it is Jesus as crucified, resurrected and ascended. But these aspects of Jesus life are just that, aspects of his life and existence and being, and they are aspects of his incarnate relationship with us.

It may be helpful to note that the incarnation is not to be confused with the birth of Jesus, as if it were only one part of his life. The incarnation is all inclusive, involving his birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension. To be with us, to include us in his own life and relationships, sin had to be addressed and overcome. The death of Jesus figures into the larger event of his incarnate relationship with us, of his bringing heaven and earth together in relationship. Given the fall and sin, how could there be a real incarnation without the death and resurrection of the Father’s Son? For how could Jesus have a real relationship with us without meeting us as we are as fallen creatures? And how could this Son and this anointed One meet us as we are as fallen creatures without overcoming our sin?

And given that Jesus is the Father’s Son and the one anointed in Holy Spirit, how could there be a real incarnation without the ascension as its fulfillment? For how could this Son and this anointed One become what we are without including us in his world and life and relationships? And how could he include us in his world and life and relationships without the ascension, without lifting us up into the arms of his Father and the embrace of the Holy Spirit? The ascension is the finishing, as it were, of the process of establishing real relationship with us, wherein the Trinitarian life of God opens itself up and fully accepts, embraces and includes all that we are in our human existence.

Stretching from the Father’s dream of our adoption to the virgin birth into Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, the incarnation finds its ongoing fulfillment in the ascension. In the ascended Son heaven and earth, all things divine and human are together in real relationship forever. This is the meaning of the incarnation. The gift of the Triune God to the human race is Jesus himself, and in him real and everlasting relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Immanuel. Salvation. Reconciliation. Adoption.

As the great Irenaeus put it, ‘our beloved Lord Jesus Christ became what we are that He might bring us to be what he is in Himself.’ And Athanasius, ‘the Son of God became Son of man to make us sons of God.’ And John, ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, glory as of the one and only from the Father, full of grace and reality…of His fulness we have all received grace upon grace.’ And Paul, ‘For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.’

And Jesus, “In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in Me, and I in you.’

Merry Christmas


Pastor Paul said...

Hi Baxter,

This is a beautiful post. Especially since I am reading it on Christmas Day.

This theology of Adoption and Inclusion of man by our Heavenly Father is most astonishing to those of us who grew up under Western Theological thinking and Augustinianism. How refreshing it is and how wonderful to know God really does like us and love us.

Merry Christmas,

Paul Kurts

Anonymous said...

JUST A QUESTION ABOUT SIN?I'VE COME TO THINK OF IT AS A SYMPTOM OF THE BROKEN RELATIONSHIP OF ADAMS WAY.IN THE ACTION OF JESUS IN ACCEPTING THE WILL OF THE FATHER AT THE CROSS RELATIONSHIP IS THE REAL ISSUE NOT sin.Mankind's baptism in Jesus anointing and life has returned us to a position of having a relationship with Father.I'm not trying to preacher to the preacher just want to know if think of it as symptom is a good approach to how father looks at sin?
wayne robertson(uga-hat)

Unknown said...

Thanks Baxter for allowing the simplicity of the gospel to flow from you and touch us all. It is a continual mind renovation. It is like a breath of fresh air which God has breathed on this earth and this love is starting to penetrate people’s minds, from the heart that is already in them.

If God is convicting all humanity to consider themselves uniquely and individually to be dead to sin and alive in Jesus than it is only in our own mythical darkened mind, as we resist and defy this reality, that we come to experience sin. It’s like standing against the wind of the Spirit. We find ourselves in wrath which is really His love. God’s love always flows only in one direction. He loves us more than He loves Himself, and there is no thought, purpose or action of sin in that. jg

Unknown said...

Just needed to add something to my previous comment! God is not separated from my sin; He is right in the middle and therein is His faith and hope as His goodness leading to a change of mind, hammers out His love to show me what already is. jg

bill winn said...

Excellent. I have to say that you have put some thoughts in my head that have had me up at night pondering the Incarnation in new and fresh ways. But like Athanasius said, "Such and so many are the Saviour'sachievements that follow from His Incarnation, that to try and number them is like gazing at the open sea and trying to count the waves."

Thanks for this thought-provoking blog Baxter.


Anonymous said...

Thanks Baxter,

This is a great Christmas gift, it is as though I will never get done unwrapping it or being suprised by its wonder as I continue to open it.(the Gift of course being Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). Thanks for help with the unwrapping Baxter.