Theme: That God Should Become Man
This week’s lessons help us to prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ by
focusing on three miracles seen in the angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary.
Scripture: Luke 1:26-38
The announcement that Jesus should be born to Mary has several parts, all of them important: that Jesus would be “great”; that he would be “the Son of the Most High”; that he would be “holy,” that is, without sin; and that he would “reign over the house of Jacob” on the throne of David forever. But of these various parts of the announcement the greatest, without any doubt, is that the one to be born should be the Son of God. It is the greatest part of the announcement because it means that by the incarnation and birth God would himself become man.
This is an amazing miracle, of course. For it is contrary to anything we might expect and beyond anything we can fully understand. God created all things. A human being is part of that creation. How, we might ask, can it be possible for God to become part of that which he created? The answer defies philosophical explanation.
I am sure you know how great a problem this was for the citizens of the ancient world. It was a problem for the Jew, because the Jew regarded God as being so high above his creation that the doctrine of the incarnation debased him and was therefore thought to be blasphemous, Besides, the incarnation seemed to teach that there were two gods, one in heaven and one on earth in the form of the alleged Messiah, and that offended Jewish monotheism.
The incarnation was also a problem for the Gentile because, in spite of the popular myths about gods consorting with humans, the ancients believed in an unbridgeable gulf between spirit, which is what God is, and flesh, which is at least part of what it means to be a human being. Spirit is not flesh, nor could it become flesh, according to ancient thinking. Therefore, for those whose minds were formed by such categories of thought, any literal incarnation of God was judged to be impossible.
These views were so strong in the ancient world that even in Christian circles some early heresies tried to explain the incarnation by saying that the spirit of Christ came on the man Jesus, rather loosely, at the time of his baptism and left him just before his crucifixion.
But it is not only the ancient world that had trouble with the miracle of the incarnation. Our modern world has trouble with it too, largely because we disbelieve in nearly everything, especially the miraculous. Even some alleged Christians disbelieve it.
A few years ago a British scholar named John Hick edited a book with the title The Myth of God Incarnate, which attempted to dismiss the incarnation as simple but ignorant and profoundly mistaken mythology. The thesis of the book was not surprising, that the incarnation was a myth. Today few unregenerate people do literally affirm the incarnation of God. The only surprising thing about this book was that Hick and those who contributed to it thought they could maintain Christianity without the incarnation and that they could continue to call themselves Christians while rejecting it.
Their underlying premise was that Christianity needs constantly to adapt itself into “something which can be believed,” and that in today’s world it has to become an incarnationless religion.2
Well, “that God and man should be joined in this child” is certainly a miracle, as Luther said. The acceptance of miracles requires faith. But that does not mean that the miracle itself is unreasonable or meaningless.
That God should become a man may seem strange to some forms of human philosophy, but it is not beyond the ability of God to accomplish. God can do anything he chooses consistent with his own nature. And as far as the reason for the incarnation is concerned, the remainder of the New Testament makes clear that it was necessary for Jesus to become man in order to die for us and thereby achieve our salvation. God must punish sin. We are sinners. The punishment for sin is death (Rom. 6:23). Therefore, we must die for our sin—unless another, who is innocent of all wrong doing himself and who is of sufficient value in God’s eyes to make atonement for countless others, should bear the punishment due us in our place. That is exactly what Jesus has done, of course. It is what the incarnation is about. That God should join with man in this child is the first great miracle of Christmas.
From the lesson, what is the greatest part of Gabriel’s announcement to Mary?
Why is it so important that God himself would become a man?
What problems did the incarnation raise?
Application: Pray for an opportunity this week to share the wonder of the incarnation with someone who needs to hear its saving message.
2John Hick, ed., and others, The Myth of God Incarnate (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1977), p. ix. The authors got the idea of constant adaptation from T. S. Eliot.