Every year on December 25th Christians around the world celebrate the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. But what is the significance of it? What does it mean when Christian say that God incarnated as a human being?
In normal, day-to-day English, you would probably almost never come across the word “incarnation.” If you did it would be more or less synonymous with the words “embodiment” or “version,” as in “My cousin Julie is so sweet she’s basically the incarnation of kindness,” or “This is the third incarnation of the novel I’m working on.”
However, to a Christian “incarnation” and the concept that lies behind it hides the key that unlocks the world. It’s so important, in fact, that Christmas, one of the most significant holidays in the Western world’s calendar is devoted to it.
Incarnation in this Christian context refers to a strange and unique event in world history: the God who created all things also walked the earth as a man a little over 2,000 years ago in Galilee, an ancient region that corresponds with modern day northern Israel. His name was Jesus. He was the son of Joseph the carpenter and Mary. He lived as a Jewish sage and was executed in his thirties by the Roman and Jewish powers-that-be.
But why do Christians believe this – that God walked the earth and suffered and died as a man? What does it mean? What is the significance of it all?
There is much to be said about the meaning of the Incarnation, but I want to focus on one aspect that doesn’t get a lot of attention.
God became incarnate in Jesus to give glory to humanity.
Christians believe that Jesus was entirely God and entirely human. He was not part God, part human, or some sort of mixture of the two. He was ” truly God and truly human” as a traditional Christian formula puts it.
This means that the goodness, glory, and beauty that Jesus achieves for himself as God is also showered upon him as a human.
He did this to lift up, restore, and glorify your humanness.
The glory Jesus received as a human being is a glory that you were made and intended to receive. Yet, it’s a glory that you have never lived up to. Unfortunately, none of us have.
Jesus’s Incarnation is like a mirror that reflects back to you your true self, the self that God wants to give you – because God finds it remarkably beautiful. It brings him boundless joy.
Haven’t you always felt like you were meant to be something greater than you are? Or that life was meant to offer you more than it has?
The significance of the Incarnation is that that intuition is right. You were made to be like royalty. Your life is meant to be as exciting and intriguing and memorable as the old Greek heroes you read about in the history books.
So, you might ask, “How do I get this version of myself?”
On one hand, the answer is: it’s already been gotten for you. God in Jesus won your best self back for you – because he delights in you and loves you. All you have to do to receive it is to trust him.
On the other hand, Jesus shows you a picture of what it means to be human. Jesus understood his public execution on a Roman crucifix (a cross) to be a sacrifice that would bring life to the world. But it is also the moment he is crowned and exalted.
One early follower of Jesus – Mark was his name – depicted Jesus’s execution and the suffering and shame that surrounded it as his coronation ceremony.
Somehow, mysteriously, Jesus’s suffering and death is the answer to what it means to be human. At this moment the full glory of humanity is revealed by Jesus crowned and exalted high on the cross.
Your humanness and the fullness of your life awaits you on the cross. This is why Jesus said, “Deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow me.” He didn’t mean to take something away from you, but to give you the wonderful gift of the fullness of yourself. He wants to lead you on the path to becoming truly human, to see you showered in glory, to crown you.
There on that cross you will find yourself.