I quoted Yogi Yorgesson in my sermon. A bridge too far? It took attention away from the line about “Really stepping in it.” But here is my attempt at explaining the incarnation:
The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. God now dwells with man. Jesus is more than just some sort of theological super-baby. The God who is beyond our ability to comprehend is now one of us. He has condescended to join humanity.
In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve wanted to be like God. That’s what they thought they would get when they ate the fruit. Death was the result. Now, Jesus comes to undo what humanity has done.
If ever someone should have been on a pedestal, it was Jesus. He is enthroned in glory, at the right hand of the Father, where the angels attend him, and sing his praises. And yet, he came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man.
That word, Incarnate. Incarnate means made flesh. There is a whole world of meaning in that word.
Jesus was de-pedestaled. But he was not thrown down from his throne by a challenger. Jesus left his throne by his choice, to fulfill his Father’s will. And he became one of us.
But what does that mean: He became one of us? He was born as a regular person, subject to the same needs as any other baby. And if it wasn’t enough that he became a human being, he did so in the most humble way possible. What sort of king do we have? Not only one who is unafraid to come down to be one of us, but when he did so, he didn’t come as a king, or prince, as a man of wealth and power. He came as a baby to poor people. How poor? His first bed was a feedbox. He was surrounded, not by the wealthy and pretty people, but by animals. Instead of fancy perfumes, he was surrounded by the unique aroma of a stable. The first visitors to his royal crib of hay were a bunch of shepherds, who would have been out in the fields watching over the flocks by night because it was lambing season. They didn’t have time to shower and put on their best clothes. When they arrived Mary and Joseph wouldn’t have had hand sanitizer and wipeys for them to clean up with. This was a baby born surrounded by the – let’s just say, things of the earth.
That’s the sort of king we have here. Descending from his pedestal and right away among the common and earthy stuff of our lives. Jesus wasn’t hanging out with the pretty folk over in Jerusalem, he was hanging out with the “Scrape your boots before you come into the house” sort of people. Because when God became one of us, he became one of us. No pretense, no fancy stuff. Coming down, living through what we live through, enduring the stuff we endure.
He knows what it means to be hungry. To be poor. To be hated and mocked without cause. He knows what it means to be tempted by the things of this world. He was tempted, we are told, in every way that you are. Every way that you are. Yeah, that one, too. He knows what you go through. He knows what it means to be human. He knows how it can hurt. He knows how bad the pain can get. He knows how hard life can be. He had days when he didn’t want to go on either. “Father if it is possible let this cup pass from me.”
The difference between Jesus and you isn’t that he was somehow given superman powers when it came to sin – Satan’s temptations just bounced off him like the bad guy bullets in the comic books. No, Satan really tempted Jesus. Jesus really had to stand up to the hard sell. The difference is that, unlike us, Jesus was able to do it. He was without sin. It was a struggle for him, just like it is for you. But then, if it wasn’t hard for Jesus, it wouldn’t really have been forgiveness for you, would it?
Let’s be honest, we get all dressed up for Christmas, we put on our happy face. As one comedian said, “On Christmas I hug and I kiss my wife’s mother, the rest of the year we don’t speak to each other.” We’ve still got the problems, the troubles, the struggles of daily living. We can cover it up for a time, but it’s still there underneath. Jesus knows about it, because he struggled, too. He knows what it means to have people around you that are just unlovable. He felt the pain of losing a friend, he knows what it means to be hungry, to be cold and lonely. He knows all those things, because he was all of those things, too. That’s what it means that he was incarnate. That he has struggled just as you have, and yet, he did it for you. He wanted to offer real forgiveness for real sins. He could only do that if he was tempted for real, if he struggled for real. If he is a real savior who actually knows what you go through.
Politicians are always trying to convince us that they go through the same things we do, that they are of the people. Two wealthy out of touch people trying to convince everyone that they are just a little bit more in touch than their opponent. It’s an illusion. Harvard Degrees and bank accounts that have more zeros than you can count. A pretend closeness to the people. And we probably don’t believe it, but it’s a lie we all tell ourselves is true, because it makes us all feel better.
But Jesus really did come down, really was one of us. He was homeless. He was sometimes hungry. He was surrounded by that unique smell of farm animal his first day. He struggled. He really did do all of this, not to prove a point about how he is a man of the people – but because he wanted to earn forgiveness for real sins. Not pretend pretty sins. Not the little celebrity fake oops moments. Not the political games sort of stuff. He needed to take away your sins. The ones that grow out of the dark places in your mind. The ones where you’ve really stepped in it now. The moments we wish we could avoid, but that keep coming back to haunt us. Those are the sorts of things he came down from his throne to fix. Those are the sorts of things he died for. Not pretend sins engineered for TV audiences. Real life sins that you wish you wouldn’t commit, but you do. The sin that so easily entangles, as St. Paul says. Jesus came down to be one of us, to live among us, to die for us. That’s what we have here.
How great is the love our Father has for us. He sent his son to be one of us. To die for us. All so that you could have new life in him. And that’s what makes Christmas a Merry time. Not the cookies and the presents and the relatives and the eggnog and the thousand other things that take up our time and make us want to just give up and not bother. No, Christmas is Merry because Jesus came to take sins away. That’s why we celebrate, that’s why we gather. Because Jesus – the only begotten Son of God, coequal with the Father, is now one of us, forever joined to humanity, so that you would be forever with God.
It’s a Merry Christmas, thanks to Jesus.