Questions and Answers About Christmas 3

Title: Questions and Answers About Christmas 3 – Is the Christmas Incarnation Possible?

Text: 2 Kings 5:7, John 1:1-2, 14, Philippians 2:6-8

Time: January 15th, 2013

 

This past December I submitted this article for publication in the local newspaper here in New York:

 

Is the Christmas Incarnation Plausible?

Christmas is the celebration by Christians of the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ, the babe born in Bethlehem two thousands years ago. It marks the entrance of God in human form into the world of mankind. But is this incarnation, this divine/human existence, even plausible not only in theory but in fact? To begin with, Christian theologians explaining the biblical Christmas account don’t claim that a man – Jesus of Nazareth – became God, but rather the very opposite, that God became human. To say that a finite, mortal man became God is definitely implausible, if not impossible. Why? Because by definition, a human is finite and limited. As members of the human race, we all begin our human journey at a finite point in time, we live with relatively limited human abilities on earth during our lifetime, and we die. But God is eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing and all-present. So then it’s rather obvious that finite man cannot become infinite God. It’s totally implausible to even entertain the thought. But the reverse, that God became man, isn’t implausible at all. It would involve an eternal being becoming, for a time, temporal. That’s a possibility. It would also mean an all-present (omnipresent) being becoming, for a time, limited and fixed to one specific spot on earth as in a human body. It would also involve an all-knowing (omniscient) being limiting himself to the confines of a human mind and an all-powerful (omnipotent) being limiting himself to the ability of a member of the human race. This is what Christians believe happened in Jesus Christ, starting with his birth, which we celebrate every December 25th. There is nothing illogical or contradictory about saying that God temporarily became man in Jesus Christ. We could think of the Christmas incarnation with God as an extremely clever computer programmer who decides to enter into his super sophisticated interactive software program and become one of the characters! He wants to experience what it’s like from start to finish to live in the program. Or put another way, something goes wrong with his interactive software program, so he decides to enter the program to fix it. That’s what God was doing in Jesus Christ – rescuing us from ourselves, from our sins, in order to ultimately save us from destruction. The Incarnation is plausible. Let’s reflect this Christmas on it’s meaning.

 

The reason I tackled this subject this year is that I’ve noticed that our culture generally speaking is losing the very essence of Christmas by being led astray by all kinds of other issues and activities in the holiday season. I wanted to address what is really at the heart of Christmas – the Incarnation of Christ. Let me spell out what I mean on this last message on the topic of Christmas for this holiday season.

 

First, it’s impossible for a man to become God. 2 Kings 5:7, “As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, ‘Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!’” Of course, this is the account of Naaman the Syrian who sought healing from the King of Israel because he heard that there was a great prophet among the Jews who could cure diseases. But the reaction from the King was typical and is typical of anyone who is asked to do the impossible – “Am I God?” We all realize that it is impossible for a mere man to become God simply because of the very definitions of God and man. God is in infinite being, man is finite, and so on. A finite being cannot become an infinite being, for example, because an infinite being has always been, while a finite being hasn’t always been. A finite being may live forever, if the infinite being grants him immortality, but a finite being cannot have lived from eternity past like an infinite being, simply because the past is over, so there can be no going back into eternity past. Now what all this philosophical reflecting shows is that in the very definitions of “God” and “man” we see the impossibility of man becoming God. So when we talk about the Christmas Incarnation, that Jesus was both God and man, we can’t possibly say that a man became God in Jesus Christ. Now the Mormons, that relatively new religion that attempts to copy many of the features of true Christianity, tries to claim that it’s possible for man to become God. But their logic is twisted and irrational. They have to fudge with the definition for “God” to enable man to become a God. But that’s not fair, nor is it permissible. True God was God from all eternity past, is presently God, and will always be God in the future. True God cannot not be God. So when Christians talk about the Incarnation, or God in human flesh, they are talking about something different than a man becoming God. The heretical view of Mormons is that all gods (they believe in many gods) started out man. Through spiritual maturity over many ages man worked his way up to the status of God. Now that’s heretical theology, but that’s what Mormons believe. The Eastern Orthodox church also believes in the doctrine of “deification,” which teaches that man can become more and more like God, but that’s different from a man becoming God. There is nothing in the Bible that teaches a man becomes God, because there is nothing that can become God. God is God, period. Man can develop and mature to become God-like or closer in character and virtue to God, but he can never become God by any process or length of time. So the Christmas Incarnation is not a human becoming divine. But then what is it?

 

Second, it’s possible for God to become a man. John 1:1-2, 14, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word as with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. . . . The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Here’s perhaps the clearest biblical passage describing the Incarnation. “And the Word was God” and “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Now what this passage shows is God became man in Jesus Christ. In Bethlehem of Judea, God became man in the womb of the Virgin Mary. This is totally different than saying that a human baby became or grew up to become God. That, as I’ve tried to show in the previous point, is a logical impossibility. But that God became man in Jesus Christ, that’s not impossible, because like it says elsewhere in the Bible, in fact in the very Christmas account in the gospels, “For nothing is impossible with God,” Luke 1:37. God can become man because nothing is impossible for God. But man cannot become God because many things are impossible for man, including this. Now in order for there to be an Incarnation, God would have to limit himself in some sense, and that’s just what we see the Bible describing of Jesus. For example, concerning Christ’s Second Coming, not even God-in-human flesh knew the exact date and time – “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father,” Matthew 24:36. So here is a clear reference to the Incarnate Word of God not knowing something. But how can this be if Jesus truly is God-in-the-flesh? Because God limited himself in his Incarnation, he accommodated himself to his earthly position on earth. He was not all-knowing in respect to his human ability, although he was still all-knowing in respect to his divinity, yet he chose not to express this attribute of his being while on earth. Now we won’t be able to explain or understand this process completely. But this is what the Bible teaches. It’s also expressed in some popular Christmas carols. For example, in “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” there’s a verse that goes, “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 Emmanuel. Hark! The herald angels sing. Glory to the newborn King!” It’s a wonderful description of just what the Incarnation really is. It doesn’t explain it, but it describes it. And that’s about the best we can do concerning the Incarnation; we can’t explain it fully, but we certainly can describe it, at least what the Bible says about it.

 

Third, Christmas is properly a celebration of the Incarnation. Philippians 2:6-8, “Who, being in the very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man; he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” Here’s another great passage that shows the Incarnation. Yet surprisingly we don’t often hear about this passage around Christmas any more. Perhaps that’s because we are so losing the point and purpose of Christmas with all the other things that we think about during the holiday season. It’s amazing how a holiday that started as a celebration of the Incarnation can gradually lose the whole meaning and purpose for which it was started. How many people today could tell you that the meaning and purpose of the Christmas holiday season is to celebrate the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ? They might be able to identity the birth of Christ as the central theme, but could they go further and tell you what the birth means? Could they tell you anything about the Incarnation? Probably not. We have a high degree of spiritual and cultural illiteracy in our nation today, and not just among the population in general, but also among the Christian clergy and church membership. The passage I just quoted is clearly pointing to the fact that God became man in Jesus Christ. “Who, being the very nature God” – who is that a reference to but none other than Jesus? “Did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” – who could that possibly described if not Jesus? The babe in the manger of Bethlehem was in essence God, yet he wasn’t concerned to prove to anyone that fact, but became a humble child, taking on human flesh, all the while remaining God. Now the question might come up, “But who was minding the universe, running things, while God was down here on earth?” Yes, the question makes sense, but only from a limited, human perspective. If Jesus were truly God, which the Bible describes he was, then he would be able to do the two things at the same time. Namely, he’d be able to run the universe and appear on earth in human flesh. Take for example a simple illustration using an ordinary computer. We all know that computers are capable of doing many different things all at the same time. For example, as I sat at my desk preparing this message I was also listening to some background music on the same computer I was using to type in the words to the sermon. Two things at once. Well, if my primitive computer can do two or more things simultaneously, couldn’t an omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent God do more than one thing at once? Certainly. And that is what he did during the Incarnation – while he was on earth, he was simultaneously in heaven. That’s God.

 

I’m not going to kid myself in thinking that I’ve explained the essence of the Incarnation in this Christmas message. I haven’t. Nobody can explain the essence of the Incarnation. It’s impossible for limited, finite minds on earth to comprehend it. But in God’s infinite mind it all makes sense and is completely rational to him. Now what should be our response to the Incarnation? Awe. Wonder. Amazement. In other words, Christmas should be a time of profound wonder, not just because of the beauty of the colors and twinkling light of the decoration, but because of the mystery of the supernatural, miraculous Incarnation. God became man in the baby Jesus! It blows our minds. It overwhelms our intellect. Yet it occurred; it’s what we celebrate at Christmastime. Now some people react to the Incarnation by doubting it. They try to strain all of reality through the sieve of their limited, finite cognitive ability, through their pee brains. When they do that, then they find the Incarnation impossible. Mostly they come at it from the false approach of saying that a man becoming God is impossible – which as I’ve explained is correct. A human, a man, a finite being becoming God, an infinite being, is impossible. If I were forced to come at the Incarnation from that direction, I too would be a skeptic, a doubter, an unbeliever. But that isn’t the proper approach to the Incarnation. We must come at it from the direction of God becoming man in Jesus Christ. An infinite, all-powerful being becomes, temporarily, a finite human being. There is no contradiction in that. There is no illogical thought process in thinking of God becoming man, even if there is in the idea of man becoming God. So it’s very important that we think about the Incarnation, but think correctly about it. Another thing that our contemporary age is known for, in addition to not thinking much about theology, is thinking incorrectly about theology. The doctrine or teaching of the Incarnation requires that we think theologically or spiritually about this subject. Unfortunately, we live in an age that isn’t used to thinking theologically about anything, and consequently when it does think theologically it does so usually incorrectly. But as Christians we need to use the Christmas season to not only teach ourselves correct theology concerning the Incarnation of Christ, but we also need to teach others how to think correctly about it too. Like I’ve said before Christmas is a good time of the year, a great time to renew our understanding and appreciation for the Christian faith. It’s also a great time to teach it to others, especially in respect to the Incarnation. I hope you’ve grown this year in your understanding of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I hope you’ve also had the opportunity to explain it to others as well. Let’s pray.

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