Christmas: God Makes His Appearance on Earth

Title: Christmas: God Makes His Appearance on Earth

Text: Matthew 2:1-12

Time: December 24th, 2009

 

“The virgin shall conceive and be with child and he will be called “Immanuel” which means “God with us.” It’s amazing how the most important aspect of Christmas is often overlooked by our culture in its celebration of the holiday. With everything we hear about Christmas every year how often do we hear about the Incarnation — or, to state it another way, “God with us?” That is what the Incarnation means — God in flesh appearing. Or as the old Christmas hymn states, “Veiled in flesh the God-head see, hail the incarnate deity.” Now how can it be that in all our culture’s celebrating of Christmas that it neglects to emphasize the Incarnation? Isn’t it because the celebration has become so big and the culture so diverse that there is a conscious effort not to offend anyone who might be offended at the claim Jesus was God in the flesh? For example, to Jews who don’t believe in the truths of Christianity, teaching that Jesus is God is offensive. Muslims also dispute the Incarnation; they deny that Jesus is divine; instead, they make him just another prophet, not even as important as their hero Mohammed. Then there are the secularists who ridicule all faiths who resent all theology of any kind; they wouldn’t want to be obligated to celebrate a holiday which they consider unreasonable or illogical like the Incarnation. God, they say, probably doesn’t exist, but even if he did, he wouldn’t appear on earth, especially as a baby born and then grow up in the typical way. So the humanists and secularists would object to any celebration of Christmas that emphasized the Incarnation of Christ. But as Christians, we must celebrate Christmas for what it really is, not for what is politically correct in a diverse secular culture. The truth is, the Christmas holiday is about the birth of God the Son, Second Person of the Holy Trinity. It’s about the birth of God as man who came to save us from our sins in a way only he could save us. Now that doesn’t mean that his identity was known from the beginning or understood fully even by his Mother Mary or father Joseph or by anyone at the time. The truth of Christ’s Incarnation was slowly revealed little by little. Probably the Wise Men or Magi didn’t understand that they were visiting God-in-the-flesh; they only understood him to be a great king and leader. The shepherds probably didn’t understand that the baby Jesus was the Incarnate Word of God; they only understood him as the Savior Messiah that would save people from their sins. Certainly the people who knew Jesus as a child and young man in Nazareth didn’t see him as the Lord God. All of this would make sense later. But the fact that people didn’t or couldn’t fully grasp his true identity didn’t stop him from being God in the flesh. It’s the same for us today; even though our culture won’t give him his full honor and glory in being God, we, on the other hand, should worship him as fully God and fully man. We should celebrate Jesus for who he really is at Christmas. The Christmas season is for celebrating the Incarnation of God on earth. As difficult as it is to grasp, God visited our planet for 33 years, starting with the baby’s birth in Bethlehem and ending with the man Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. Christmas marks the beginning of that Incarnation. Let me say a few things about the Incarnation.

First, the Incarnation begins with there being One God Almighty. Here’s something that Jews and Christians and even Muslims can agree on — there is only One Almighty God. Hindus and Buddhists might have a problem with the belief in just One God because they would recognize many different gods. Or they might not even believe that ultimate reality was personal or had a mind of its own or even had consciousness. But Christians, Jews and Muslims all believe in the existence of One God Almighty. Christianity doesn’t teach that there are many gods and that one of these gods came to the earth in Jesus Christ. There are religions that teach that, for example, like Hinduism, one form of it, might teach that one of the gods came to earth in the person of Jesus Christ. Of course it could teach that another god came to earth in the form of Buddha, and so on. But that isn’t the Christian teaching of the Incarnation because Christians believe in One God. In fact, the Christian teaching that there is One God Almighty is so much a part of our Western culture that hardly anyone thinks about it consciously or deliberately makes a choice to believe in the One God; it’s so much a part of our culture that nearly everyone believes it from birth. But it wasn’t always so — and in some places of the world it isn’t even so today. But through the activity of the Jews, Christians, and finally Muslims, most people in the world probably believe belief in One God today. There was a time before Christianity that most people in the world believed in many gods, but that has gradually changed over the last 2000 years through the influence of mostly Christianity. Why is it so important that belief in One God or Monotheism be emphasized? Because the incarnation teaches that the One God became human flesh in the baby Jesus. God Almighty became a man in Jesus Christ. The only qualification we can make to this is that it was God the Son, Second Person of the Holy Trinity, not God the Father nor God the Spirit who became flesh. The doctrine of the Trinity teaches that within the nature of the One True God there exists three eternal Persons, Father Son and Holy Spirit. How the One God can exist as three Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit is a mystery, but it is what the Bible teaches and so it’s Christian truth. The Incarnation of God at Christmastime is what Christians celebrate or should celebrate each December 25th, even if the general popular culture totally neglects or ignores this central Christmas theme. Let’s always celebrate the Incarnation at Christmastime and not let the fact that our culture forgets to include its importance as an excuse for us to do so.

Second, The Incarnation doesn’t mean that a man became God. In some religions there is the belief that men might become gods or God; but that isn’t what Christianity teaches by the Incarnation. For example, the Mormon cult teaches that men can work their way to the status of God. A lot of people don’t know this, the Mormons try to keep this doctrine under wraps, but they actually teach that God Almighty started out as a man somewhere and worked his way up to become God, and that all men can work their way up to the status of God if they try hard enough. They then believe that they can become God and have their own planet of people praying to them and worshiping them in churches, and so forth. That is not what Christianity teaches in the Incarnation. Jesus was not a man who became God. Often Jews and Muslims criticize Christians for believing that a man, Jesus, became God, but that’s a false misconception. The Incarnation doesn’t teach that Jesus the man became God. It goes without saying that there is much ignorance over even the basic teachings of Christianity today. And it doesn’t stop at the doors of the church either; it’s inside the church as well. Generally speaking, Christians don’t know very much about their own beliefs, which is why so many Christians can be drawn into the false religious cults such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons. The sad fact is that the average JW knows more about what they believe than the average Christian knows what he or she believes. Couples with the fact that most Christian churches don’t teach much biblical doctrine anymore, instead, opting for teaching principles of success and achievement in marriage, family, work and finances. Instead of teaching the basic biblical Christian beliefs and practices, most pastors in most churches are helping people achieve the American Dream of material well-being. As a result, most Christians know little more about the Incarnation than does the average non-Christian. Consequently, in celebrating Christmas each year Christians typically fall in line with the general cultural celebration, which routinely leaves out any mention of the Incarnation – or the understanding that God became flesh in Jesus Christ. Ask yourself this question, “Do I regularly think of Christmas as a celebration of the Incarnation, the appearing of God in human form?” If you are typical, you probably don’t associate the Incarnation with Christmas. But let’s not let this error go on unchecked. Let’s make it a point this year to begin to think of Christmas as a time to celebrate the Incarnation, and appreciate the fact that God became flesh in Jesus Christ. But let’s go further in that same direction.

Third, the Incarnation teaches that God became man. “And he shall be called Immanuel, which means God with us.” The Incarnation teaches that God became man in Jesus Christ, that’s what the Isaiah prophecy means when it says “God with us.” Now it’s impossible for a man to become God, but it’s not impossible for God Almighty to become man. If it were impossible for God to become a man, then he wouldn’t be God Almighty because by definition God can do what man can’t. “For nothing is impossible with God,” says the Bible in another context in Luke 1:37. Now that doesn’t mean we can fully understand or explain it; we can’t. But the biblical Christian teaching is God became man in Jesus Christ, starting with the baby Jesus and ending with the man Jesus on the cross, in the tomb, and after the resurrection. When we begin to fully grasp the significance of God becoming flesh in the baby Jesus then we really begin to understand the importance of Christmas. Without the Incarnation Christmas is just another pretty holiday celebration. I was walking down the main street here in Jamestown, New York the other day admiring the beautiful decorations and lights when it suddenly struck me that not one of the beautiful decorations I was enjoying had any direct Christian connection. In other words, all the pretty decorating done by the city was totally disconnected with the historic Christian celebration of Christmas. Whether through political correctness or through secular city council members and activists threatening lawsuits for anything directly spiritual or religious, all the decorations in the downtown area here are neutral or secular. What a shame that Christmas can’t be celebrated for what it really is – the Incarnation of God. But by taking out the fact that God became man in Jesus Christ, our culture has cheapened Christmas to the status of merely a sentimental holiday. I afraid the same tendency is at work in Christianity and Christian churches too. How many of us have attended church services on or around Christmas only to see and hear things of every variety except about the Incarnation? There are so many different themes that are all wrapped up in Christmas that it’s easy to lose the Incarnation amidst the celebration of trees, lights, nutcrackers, candles – and a thousand other things. But let’s determine in our lives and in our church to keep the main thing the main thing. Christmas is above all the celebration of the Incarnation; God became flesh in the baby Jesus in Bethlehem. The “Immanuel” came to dwell among us and save us by his death on the cross for our sins.

So really, Christmas is an exciting celebration because it marks the beginning of the Incarnation of God. God visits the planet earth. He joins the human race as a baby boy born of a woman. He grows up silently and incognito. He becomes a man without fanfare. Only during the last three years of his life does he begin to reveal his full glory, and then only gradually to his 12 disciples and then eventually to more and more followers. Still, most people simply couldn’t or wouldn’t believe it, just like today, most people don’t or won’t believe it. But to us, Christians, we believe it. That’s why we can celebrate the real meaning of Christmas, no matter how hard our secular culture tries to modify or change that meaning to fit its own human agenda. Politicians try to spin Christmas to emphasize the theme of “peace on earth,” while economists and businessmen try to spin Christmas for their own commercial success by insisting that Christmas is all about buying, giving and receiving presents. Even Christian churches sometimes emphasize the wrong thing at Christmastime. Many, maybe even most churches emphasize the theme of family and friendships at Christmastime. They make it all about getting along, enjoying fellowship and family. They emphasize the social aspects of Christmas, the family gatherings, the social events, and togetherness, the connecting with one another through visiting and sharing our lives with one another. These are all good themes in and of themselves, but they don’t represent the heart of Christmas. Unless churches emphasize the Incarnation, the birth of Jesus as God-in-the-flesh, they are unknowingly playing into the hands of secular society, which seeks to totally eliminate any distinctive Christian celebration of Christmas. It’s easy to do. But as Christians we must return again and again, as individual Christians and as a group, a community, a church, to the central focus – the Incarnation. God became flesh in the baby Jesus and began his work of salvation. Only God could bridge the gap between man and God; man certainly couldn’t reconnect man with God. Only God could repair the breach caused by sin, the separation between God and man that began with Adam and Eve and has continued on through all generations. By faith in Jesus, through trusting his life, death and resurrection, we are forgiven of sin and saved to eternal life. Have you properly celebrated Christmas? If not, why not do so this year by focusing on the Incarnation.

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