Long ago in a quiet, crude place where animals sleep, Mary gave birth and felt the soft, human skin of her firstborn. The humanity of this scene appropriately pulls us in for a closer look.
We can identify with Joseph's confusion, with Mary's wonder, and with the shepherds' amazement about the Son of God's quiet arrival in such an inhospitable world. All of those thoughts are magnificent to ponder. But we cannot stop there. These are only an introduction to wonders far deeper, far more significant. Just beneath the soft, newborn skin of this beautiful story is the flesh and bone of a theological truth that is older than creation: God planned to send a Savior long before time began.
At its heart, Christmas is the celebration of a promise God had made to provide a Savior and King. That Person is His Son, Jesus—God-Man, conceived miraculously, taking on human flesh, living among us in order to die in our place. The incarnation—God becoming flesh—is a doctrine that remains foundational to everything we believe as Christians.
In telling the story of God the Son's incarnation, the disciple, Matthew, expresses it this way:
An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. "Joseph, son of David," the angel said, "do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord's message through his prophet: "Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means 'God is with us.'" (Matthew 1:20–23 NLT)
God's promise to send a Savior reminds us of the reason we need a Savior in the first place. When the original man, Adam, plunged all of humanity into sin because of his disobedience in the garden of Eden, evil entered the bloodstream of humanity, polluting all who live in it. And each of us has endorsed Adam's tragic choice by adding our sin to his. The result is a world subject to pain of every conceivable kind: hunger, thirst, sorrow, weariness, temptation, disease, prejudice, grief . . . the list would be endless if it didn't end with the ultimate evil: death. That's the world we live in.
In light of such bleak conditions in the world—and especially in our lives—it's not hard to wonder: How can a good God allow evil to continue? The surprising answer: because He loves us. He could have ended all evil before the fruit of the forbidden tree digested in Adam's stomach. Let's not forget that the evil we would have God put an end to includes you and me. We brought, and we continue to bring, evil upon ourselves and the world, and He would be entirely justified to condemn us to suffer the twisted and tangled mess we made of His creation. But . . . He loves us. He is patient with us. Why? The apostle Peter tells us: "He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent" (2 Peter 3:9 NLT).
Just as one man (Adam) led all of humanity into rebellion, another man (Jesus) must reconcile us to God. Who among us does not deserve the penalty of death because of sin? And if one sinless person could be found, what mere mortal would have the power to die the death you and I deserve yet be resurrected from the dead so that He could continue to represent us? The answer is clear: only a human who is also God could do that!
Two millennia ago in a small, rugged Bethlehem barn, God the Son became Immanuel, "God with us"—God incarnate. He lived as we live, suffered as we suffer, died as we die, yet without sin. And He, being the God-Man, overcame the power of death in order to give us eternal life.
Who but Jesus possesses "the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord" (Philippians 2:9–11 NLT)? No one, living or dead, has transformed the human heart and mind or changed the course of history as Jesus has. How could He accomplish what so many before and since have failed to accomplish? The answer is both simple and profound: through the miracle of the incarnation, our God became like us so that we could become like Him.
As you ponder the humanity of the first Christmas, remember that it is an invitation to walk slower and think deeper. I invite you to touch the infant skin of the God-Man with your imagination. I invite you to wonder as the shepherds wondered and to worship as the wise men did. I urge you to imagine the infinite God in the body of a finite baby—just as Mary and Joseph saw.
You are the reason our God became incarnate—and so am I. The best gift we have ever received came on that first Christmas—delivered in a Person from God the Father . . . to us.
"Thank God for this gift too wonderful for words!" (2 Corinthians 9:15 NLT).