It's the sort of answer that should inspire awe and expectation. The answer's never been one-dimensional. It's neither cosy, nor comfortable. It certainly isn't 'safe' enough for a Christmas card.
So throw away all that's twee and trite.
Dispense with those distracting decorations.
Say 'so long' to Santa, and 'bye bye' to baubles, because this question demands an answer:
What's Christmas all about?
Christmas Celebrates God's Invasion of Earth.
There's a 'three-dimensionality' to Christmas that Evangelical Christians in particular so often skim over - and, in some cases, ignore entirely. Maybe because it's perceived as too 'distant' a truth, one that's not really relevant to our everyday lives. Alternatively, it's perhaps a subject seldom discussed in detail from the pulpit, and as such we're not too sure why it's supposed to be so amazing. Worse still, some Christians will barely assume this deeper meaning at all. The tragedy in all this is that we're missing something out on something. Something incredible. Something mind-bending.
At Christmas, we celebrate the Incarnation of the Son of God - the invasion of earth by the King of Heaven!
The word 'Incarnation' simply comes from the Latin, incarnari, meaning: 'to take flesh'. Therefore, when we talk about the Incarnation of God, we're referring to the divine Son of God:
- Entering into His own creation;
- Adding to Himself a human nature;
- Making Himself known as Jesus of Nazareth.
Let's not mince our words or lose the meaning here - we're talking about an out-and-out invasion! The King of Heaven takes on flesh so as to walk among the same rebels who have rejected His rightful authority. Who would later spit at Him. Torture Him. Beat Him. Kill Him. He does this, all the while proclaiming the coming Kingdom of God - as if saying, "the army of God waits in the wings to make all things new, so here I am, calling you to surrender, for heaven will make all things new!"
One of the best references to the Incarnation can be found in the Gospel of John. As you read this, try to imagine him poring over these words. Making sure every word is exactly right. Changing and editing so as to eventually give us these few verses, guaranteeing that they reflect the awesome moment when all of history was broken in half!!
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that has been made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it. ... The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. ... And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
It's such a radical notion that many religions pivot on a denial of Jesus as divine. One of the central tenets of Islam is Tawhid - the absolute 'oneness' of God. The Christian belief in the Incarnation is said by Muslims to compromise Tawhid, and the result is that they have committed shirk, the unforgivable sin. The Qur'an itself presents us with a Jesus who rebukes the claim that He is the Incarnate Son of God. Judaism, too, firmly rejects any notion of Jesus being the Messiah, let alone divine. The majority of world faiths have had to make some kind of response to the scandalous claim that God took on flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. The doctrine is either denied outright or diluted. Only Christianity dares to say the ridiculous.
Careers, too, have been built denying the doctrine of the Incarnation. In a rare but candid moment, liberal theologian John Hick once wrote: “There is a direct line of logical entailment from the premise that Jesus was God… to the conclusion that Christianity, and Christianity alone, was founded by God in person; and from all this to the conclusion that God must want all human children to be related to Him through this religion which He has Himself founded for us” [Hick, 1982, "God Has Many Names"]. Hick ultimately rejected the truth of the Incarnation in favour of a pluralistic worldview. But here we see him acknowledge - quite rightly - that if Jesus was indeed the divine Son of God incarnate, then everything changes. He's no longer some good teacher, prophet or even 'just' the Messiah.
He becomes the centrepiece of all things.
This is a world of many voices: political parties, family members, gender ideologies, TV shows, movies, magazines, newspapers, academics, religious leaders. All desperately vying to be seen as some kind of authority. And yet, if Jesus is the incarnate Son of God - then everything changes. Nothing stays the same. To paraphrase those famous nativity words of Mary, the coming of Jesus necessarily implies the bringing down of rulers from their thrones [Luke 2:52].
Authorities crumble when the true King comes to town [Acts 17:7].
(You can perhaps see why people might not like this...)
Well, get ready everyone. Here are twelve reasons for the Invasion. Twelve reasons why Christmas is electrifyingly exciting. Why it's worth fighting for and why it's worth celebrating. Why those carols always seemed so special, and why there's so much more to Christmas than even they can convey.
Hark! The herald angels sing!
Glory to the new born King -
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled.
Joyful all ye nations rise,
Join the triumph of the skies -
With angelic host, proclaim:
Christ is born in Bethlehem!
Let's do this...
 Because God Became Man - He Is For Us a Champion.
There would be no justice in this arrangement.
No relationship. No grace. No union.
But worst of all – we would be missing a champion.
The uniqueness of Christianity is found in its boasting of a True Man on our side. One who champions our case. One who fights for us, mediates for us, suffers for us, lives for us. And it’s the Incarnation that made this possible. The Invasion changed everything. All religions possess a vertical dimension: a deity ‘up there’. Beyond and out of reach, to be sought after but never touched. But it’s only with the Nazarene that the order of creation bends to breaking point as a second dimension is wrought from the heavens – a horizontal dimension. Instead of God high up in the rafters, we now have a Man here in the slums. And best of all: He’s ours. And we are His. He fights for us as our “advocate” [1 John 2:1] as well as our “mediator” [1 Tim 2:5].
It’s not as if the world hasn’t noticed. Human beings have, for millennia, told each other stories of a Hero from beyond, his mission to rescue those he calls his own. These tales are practically ubiquitous - from antiquity through to modern times, in movies and in comic books. Even Doctor Who spins the same sort of yarn. It’s as if there exists a Centrepiece of history. A focal point that all culture bends back towards. Like creation itself was designed to greet the One at its centre, and so we construct myths, whispering a hidden truth, until one day, at an unexpected time and in an unexpected place, a group of peasants are given glad tidings.
 Because God Became Man - He Is For Us An Actor.
When we say that God became an ‘Actor’, this is what is meant. The Son of God enters into His own creation, but there’s not a hint of passivity. This is not some Ofsted ‘observation’. He did not come just to watch. By becoming Incarnate, the Son shows us the true intention of the Triune God: participation. “For us and for our salvation”, as the Nicene creed puts it, so that we might live. So that we might be free. So that we might be saved. Even though we don’t deserve a second of His performance, the Son gladly assumes the part prepared for Him. “Not my will, but yours be done.”
 Because God Became Man - He Is For Us A Friend.
Think about it: if the sacrifice of the Son was all that the heavens had in mind, then why didn’t Jesus die at birth? Or at the point of becoming cognisant? Or at the age of 10, or 15, or 25?! It’s evident that although Golgotha was visible from Bethlehem on that “holy night”, this isn’t quite the whole story. I’d suggest that the life of the Incarnate Son was as important as His death. After all, it’s said that in His increasing of years, He grew not only in wisdom and stature, but also in the favour of God [Luke 2:52]. The years spent growing and learning gave pleasure to His Father. And at His baptism, instead of expressing some kind of meandering inevitability, Jesus spoke in exactly the opposite fashion: “[This] is proper for us to fulfil all righteousness” [Matt 3:15].
The Incarnation wasn’t some sort of redemptive time bomb. God wasn’t waiting for the plan to explode, circa 33AD. God makes no mistakes. Every moment of Jesus’ life on earth was run through with the providence & purpose of heaven. For a start, we should recall that it’s the lifelong obedience of Jesus to His Father that is given to us; this is the very essence of justification. It would therefore mean nothing without the Incarnation. However, I’d also say that in God becoming man we see the fulfilment of something present right at the very beginning. When we look at Genesis 3 we read of God walking in the garden, in the presence of Adam and Eve. The Incarnation sees God return to walk among His people. His desire (as we’ll read below) is for fellowship. His purpose in creation, and, indeed, in the Incarnation is that of loving intimacy. Or, as Jesus says to His disciples: “I call you servants no longer” [John 15:15]. Instead, He calls them friends.
 Because God Became Man - The Scriptures Are A Treasure Chest.
But, wait, hang on. Jesus doesn’t appear in Numbers 20. What’s going on?
We’ll say it again – the Incarnation changed everything. Just as the disciples could no longer see their religion and their God in the same way, now they couldn’t read their Scriptures in the same way either! Before it was like a stained glass window on a cloudy day, that is to say, still beautiful but not quite ‘there’. But with Jesus it’s like the sun has started to shine through every pane. All the same details are present but now they simply look different. They’ve been transformed. It’s as if Jesus has been hidden on every page! Sometimes explicitly, at other times implicitly. Sometimes prophetically, at other times allegorically.
Suddenly, the Bible becomes like a treasure chest: Melchizedek a type of Christ, Davidic promises a prelude to His Kingdom; Eucharist foreshadowed in Isaiah; the Church foreseen in Song of Songs. It’s now noticeable that of the three angels who came to Abraham in Gen 18, one of them carried the divine name and accepted a form of worship. It’s now clear that the same honour is bestowed to the mysterious leader of the LORD’s armies in Joshua 5. And so on.
The Incarnation shined a light through the Scriptures – we now see gifts and treasures strewn about, each revealing a God who delights in a little bit of holy mischief!
 Because God Became Man - The Scriptures Are A Treasure Map.
In the Incarnate life of the Son of God, all of this was finally fulfilled. The Man of God’s Own Choosing had arrived; Immanuel was here. The Scriptures had not only hid Him in unexpected places; they had actually prepared the way, like a treasure map. X marks the spot. The authors of Scripture (perhaps without even realising) had been pointing towards the One Who Is To Come, whose glory now we see.
 Because God Became Man - We Are Ransomed.
Anselm’s argument is that our salvation was not just made possible because of the Incarnation (i.e. Jesus came so as to die), but also that our salvation was impossible without the Incarnation. As soon as sin entered the world, there was no other solution. Our sin is basically like theft, Anselm says. We have failed to give God what is owed to Him. We are therefore obligated to make amends. After all, it’s the just thing to do. BUT – we can’t. We’ve stolen from the Ancient of Days. What we’ve taken we now cannot render. (We’re screwed. Basically.)
That’s where the Incarnate Son of God comes in. He is at once human, and therefore able to represent us, but also divine, and therefore qualified to pay back what we owe. He is the God-Man, our champion. Justice is therefore satisfied and humanity is thereby saved. If we go along with Anselm’s argument, we’re presented with an incredibly high view of the Incarnation. Nothing is possible without it.
 Because God Became Man - We Are Changed.
This is known in theological circles as theosis – or ‘divinisation’. The notion is that the very act of the Word assuming flesh was itself salvific. Because the Son of God added a human nature to Himself, ‘humanity’ itself is able to be restored by grace. More than this, when we become Christians, we are united with Jesus and we become increasingly like Him. In the words of 2 Peter, “He has given us … his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that’s in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature” [2 Pet 1:4].
This is a controversial doctrine and it’s been variously articulated. Without a doubt, it has, at certain times, been abused. Calvin once decried any notion of a “gross mixture” between man and God. Indeed, in some cases this idea can appear more pagan than Christian. We have to be very careful to uphold the Creator / Creature distinction. That said, we must also be faithful to the Scriptures, and we must at least be reverent to the witness of the early Church. What did they see that we should too? Quite simply, they saw that the Incarnation changes everything. Christ’s taking humanity to Himself is not an insignificant fact. It indicates His intention to restore all things to Himself, and make all things new. What’s more, Christians are united to the God-Man – through Him we become participants in the divine nature, new creations, slowly becoming more and more Christlike as we await our eventual glorification. Then we shall see Him face to face. But until then, we get to enjoy this blessing: the Word of God has taken on our flesh, and, because of this, we now enjoy what belongs to heaven.
 Because God Became Man - We Are Not Alone.
This never ceases to astound me.
Behold, the God of all eternity, weeping. Mourning with those who mourn. Suffering with those who suffer.
Really think about that for a second. Far too often we imagine a God ‘up there’, silent in heaven. Aloof and alone. It’s right that we continue to uphold the Creature/Creator distinction. He is not like us. He is categorically different. And yet, here’s the fullness of God in Christ being completely & utterly with us. In all of our pain and hurt. All of our weakness. The Incarnation doesn’t just promise salvation and friendship, but company in the hardest of moments. Ever tear shared.
When God promised to be ‘Immanuel’, he meant it.
 Because God Became Man - We Know He's Ridiculous.
The Incarnation serves to display this grace very well indeed. It is, frankly, ridiculous when you think about it. The ancient Son of God, the one through whom and for whom all things have been made, He who is girded with splendour and the praise of angels, He who sits at the centre of the throne of God – this one enters His own creation as a newborn. The LORD God of Israel, found here in a cave, surrounded by field animals. The Ancient of Days, soon to be swaddled by a teenager. The Son of God defecates Himself and is cleaned up by mortal hands.
While other faiths fight for gods of unbridled strength, we boast in the one who’s not afraid of weakness or vulnerability, of humiliation and pain. All “for us and our salvation”. Behold, the King of (Ridiculous) Grace. Come, come and worship.
 Because God Became Man - We Know He's Not A Sky-Daddy.
Former Archbishop Michael Ramsey once said, “God is Christlike, and in Him is no un-Christlikeness at all”. God is defined by the Incarnation. When you want to know who God is, how He ticks, what He values and what He seeks, 'leave your contemplations' and look to the Natal Star.
Look in the manger – see the delicate head of God Eternal, needing to be held up and supported.
Look in the house of Joseph – watch as His parents ask Him to eat and play and tidy up.
Look in the Jordan – observe His love for obedience, even when it’s utterly strange.
Look in the Garden – see Him cry in broken submission, hear Him adore the Father.
Look in His eyes – see Him cry for the forgiveness of His murderers, and breathe His last at the hands of rebel sinners.
Look in the tomb – behold, death is defeated!
The Invasion changed everything. God is Christlike. Nothing less will do.
 Because God Became MAn - We Must Change.
If Christ is not at the centre of our view of God, our view is wrong.
If Christ is not at the centre of our view of faith, our view is wrong.
If Christ is not at the centre of our view of Church, our view is wrong.
If Christ is not supreme over our political convictions, then they are broken.
If Christ is not supreme over our views of marriage or culture, then they are broken.
As Calvin once said – every discourse in which the name of Jesus is not spoken is without savour.
 Because God Became Man - The Rules Are Different.
Imagine, for a moment, that all this is actually true.
That there really is a God – no, not a sky daddy. But a God who revealed Himself in Jesus of Nazareth. Imagine that He really did enter His own creation, living with us and sharing in our humanity, even in our suffering. Imagine that He actually died an excruciating death at the hands of torturers and tyrants. Imagine that He actually did defeat death itself. Imagine that He actually will come back, not with weakness, but as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
I’m telling you to ‘imagine’ all this because sometimes it’s difficult to tell whether we really think any of that is true. We just like our nice cosy Church services, our pleasant little carols at Christmas and eggs at Easter. We’ll sing some songs and put our arms in the air, and even try to read our Bible and do a good work here and there.
But… sometimes… it’s as if something is missing. As if all of that is just perfunctory and convenient. I really cannot accept that one can encounter the Gospel of the glory of Christ – this message of Immanuel, our champion, God with us, for us, defeating death itself – and then not have your best made plans and your cosy middle class life absolutely ruined.
The Invasion changed everything. So why aren’t we changed?
There’s something huge, something massive, something magnificent here. It’s hiding, just ‘behind’ Christmas. We can see it as through a glass darkly. That moment, that decree, that decision of the Triune God – one can just imagine the angelic cohorts in stunned silence as the Son of God entered His own creation. One can just about feel that earthquake in the heavenly places as the predestined man of God’s own choosing initiates the plan that broke time itself in two.
Origen of Alexandria, a third century theologian, once said the following about the Incarnation:
“[We] are lost in the deepest amazement that such a nature, pre-eminent above all others, should have divested itself of its condition of majesty and become man, and tabernacled amongst men. … But of all the marvellous and mighty acts related of Him, this altogether surpasses human admiration, and is beyond the power of mortal frailness to understand or feel, how that mighty power of divine majesty, that very Word of the Father, and that very Wisdom of God, in which were created all things, visible and invisible, can be believed to have existed within the limits of that man who appeared in Judea; nay, that the Wisdom of God can have entered the womb of a woman, and have been born an infant, and have uttered wailings like the cries of little children!” [De Principes VI.1-2]
Christ by highest heaven adored,
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come,
Offspring of a Virgin’s womb;
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see,
Hail the Incarnate Deity!
Pleased as man with man to dwell,
Jesus our Immanuel!
Hark the Herald Angels Sing:
“Glory to the Newborn King!"