When we celebrate Christmas, we are celebrating Jesus’ birth into this world. Birth is always a reason to celebrate, but this birth is far different than any other! Instead of coming into existence, like all of us did in the womb, Christ always existed. So his birth to this world wasn’t so much a celebration of new life but the wonder that God himself would leave the joy of heaven to come down and live among imperfect humanity in a broken, hurting world.
It’s easy to miss how amazing it is that God would become man. Once again, the Puritan John Flavel has helped me imagine how much of a radical step this was:
“For the Sun to fall from its sphere, and be degraded into a wandering atom. For an angel to be turned out of Heaven, and be converted into a silly fly, or worm, had been no such great abasement; for they were but Creatures before … The distance betwixt [between] the highest, and lowest species of creatures, is but a finite distance. The Angel and the worm dwell not so far asunder [apart]. But for the infinite glorious Creator of all things, to become a creature, is a mystery exceeding all human understanding.”
In other words, I think we tend to forget how great a gap there is between the Creator and his creation. Much like the gap there is between me and a doll I might sew. The doll might slightly resemble me, but it’s of an entirely different order. This radical step of humiliation demonstrates not only how desperate our need for salvation is, but also the depth of the love of a God who will go “all-in” to save his people!
So why did Jesus have to lower himself so much? I turned to Athanasius, one of the early church fathers, who wrote a classic work Of the Incarnation:
“Blinded himself, man could not see to heal. The witness of creation had failed to preserve him, and could not bring him back. The Word alone could do so. But how? Only by revealing Himself as Man. … None, then, could bestow incorruption, but He Who had made, none restore the likeness of God, save His Own Image, none quicken, but the Life, none teach, but the Word.”
As we are unable to see God’s glory, even with his creation all around us, he has come himself to give us a living picture of who he is. That picture is salvation, it is life, because knowing God is the very reason we were made! As Jesus prayed, “This is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3).
4. John Flavel, The Fountain of Life Opened (London: 1673), emphasis and brackets mine.