Tidings of Comfort and Joy: Jesus’ Incarnation
So here we are on the first Sunday of December-I trust you’re in Christmas holiday mode. I just want to find out who thinks-according to Andy Williams-that it’s the most wonderful time of the year? With the kids jingle belling and everyone telling you’ll be of good cheer. It’s the most wonderful time of the year. There’ll be parties for hosting; Marshmallows for toasting; And caroling out in the snow. There’ll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago. I just want to know who’s toasting the marshmallows and telling the ghost stories? Does anybody include that in their seasonal celebration? If so please send me a photo! But I think most of us would agree that-it’s the most wonderful time of the year. That this is the holiday season we’ve all been waiting for. Of decorating the house, putting up the tree, shopping for presents, listening to Christmas music, watching Christmas movies and having big family gatherings with lots of food. That no other time of the year is as magical, mysterious or moving! But that’s because all those things point us to something much deeper-because Christmas is that annual reminder that we’re not alone, that we’re a part of something far bigger than ourselves; that for just a moment peace can descend upon our chaotic and painful world-because God has entered our world in the most profound way possible, bringing us the greatest hope we could ever imagine. That’s why we’ve titled our series this year-Tidings of Comfort and Joy. For there is no greater message of comfort and joy to be found anywhere. Just try to come up with something because everything else falls short. As the angel said to the shepherds that night outside of Bethlehem-Behold-I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. And that’s what we’re going to examine in these next few weeks-and I can’t think of a better way to spend my remaining Sundays than talking about these Tidings of Comfort and Joy-and that will include: Joseph’s Obedience (remarkable), God’s Free Gift (don’t we wish all Christmas gifts were free), the Angel’s Song (the original Christmas carol), and today we’ll start off with Jesus’ Incarnation-which is the foundational truth for what it’s all about.
And to do that I want to set the stage by talking about what you hope to receive for Christmas. Who’s been asked what they want for Christmas? Who has an answer and knows what they want for Christmas? Who has no idea-and says just surprise me? Every year I envision myself on Christmas morning opening up the greatest present of all-the Lego Star Wars Death Star. It was the biggest Lego set ever made with over 4,000 pieces-what a Christmas break that would be putting it all together. Unfortunately it’s out of print and costs $1400 on Amazon! But I said it was the biggest Lego set because now there’s a few bigger ones-the Colosseum in Rome has 9,036 pieces, the Lego Titanic has 9,090, and the Lego World Map is the biggest with 11,695 pieces! So that’s a huge Lego set-just not nearly exciting as the Death Star! But pretend you got a Lego set for Christmas (apparently 28 Lego sets are sold every second during Christmas!) And maybe you’ve never put a Lego set together before-or wouldn’t know where to start-but assume you got a Lego firehouse or castle or a space station-and you put all the pieces put together-pic. Maybe it takes you a few hours but once you’re done you arrange all the little Lego people inside the various buildings-and then you do what every kid does-Hey Mom, Dad, come here and check out what I built. You’re excited to show off your city, this Lego world that you’ve made-and you really hope your little brother doesn’t smash it because you’ve worked hard on it-you’re the maker, the creator. And let me point out the obvious-you are very different from the Lego people. Here they are and here’s you. You’ve put them together just like you put their little world together. There’s no comparison-you’ve caused their world to exist-but imagine if you could become a Lego person and enter their Lego world. You’d have to become sort of blocky and really small-but imagine if a human being-the one who built the Lego set became a Lego person and entered his Lego world. Now you might say that sounds strange and quite impossible-a breathing human Lego builder can’t enter into the world he’s built out of plastic Lego bricks. Reality doesn’t work that way-and yet what is it we celebrate at Christmas but the builder of our world becoming one of us. Our creator enters His creation. He who is eternal and unlimited and infinite, towering over all things makes Himself rather small and comes into our world. And it’s not like He shows up in all His glory and magnificence. But even more incredible is that He becomes one of us-as a newborn baby in Bethlehem. His might and power takes on the frailty and weakness of our flesh. It’s a miracle of staggering proportions, something far greater than a human becoming a Lego person; this is the true God becoming man-on a mission to rescue and redeem us-and nothing should fill us with greater comfort or joy than that!
Now initially that wasn’t the case-and the news was far more uncomfortable than comfortable! Next week we’re going to look more closely at Joseph’s story-but at the start it wasn’t tidings of comfort and joy-but tidings of hurt and sadness-because Joseph assumed his fiancee Mary was unfaithful. And who could blame him-Matt 1:19-21. This is a 180 degree difference from what Joseph ever imagined. As he sees his pregnant fiancee would he ever assume that the baby was conceived by the Holy Spirit? No way! No one would ever assume that-like Joseph we would assume the worst. And yet more we’re reminded of the biblical truth that God’s ways are not our ways, that His thoughts and His plans are far higher than ours. Because what does it go on to say-Matt 1:22-23. That’s who this baby was-that’s Jesus’ identity. He was God in the flesh, God with us here in our world. That’s who Joseph was looking at that night in the manger-a little baby who was God. Talk about tidings of comfort and joy! Listen to how the angel described it to Mary-Luke 1:35. This child is no ordinary child-but the Son of God in the flesh.
John’s gospel communicates it from heaven’s perspective-John 1:1-3. John is saying our maker, our creator enters His creation. Jesus is the Word, He was there with God in the beginning, always existing before anything else ever existed. He’s the one who made everything. He hung all the stars and put all the Lego pieces of planet earth together! And now He has entered our world by being born as a baby, by becoming one of us. What does John say later on-John 1:10. Let that thought sink into your minds this morning. He was in the world-and the world was made through Him. Sure, you can make a house-and then you can go inside that house. We get that-but Jesus goes so far beyond that because He made the world that all the houses can sit on-and He made the universe that contains our world as it spins around the sun. So He made all the space that we inhabit-but then He Himself takes on human flesh and inhabits a body. Look at John 1:14. That verse tells us 2 very profound things. First of all the Word-and the Word was with God and was God-that Word became human flesh-took on a human body-became one of us and dwelt among us-and yet what was His identity-the only Son from the Father. The eternal second person of the Trinity who has always existed. So Miracle#1: The One who always existed began His human existence. That’s what these tidings of comfort and joy are all about. Jesus didn’t stop being God-rather He added humanity to who He already was by becoming flesh.
There’s a Christmas devotion I like where the author said he was talking to his kids about Jesus’ birth and asked them if they existed before they were born. And of course his kids said no and he asked them how old they were in mom’s tummy and they said, Zero. We were zero years old and then we were born. Makes sense-so the author went on to say that he told his kids Jesus was already old when he was in Mary’s tummy, really old because He had existed for all of eternity since He was God. Since Jesus is God, the birth of Jesus was not his origin, but his incarnation. He has no origin. Jesus is the only person in history whose birth did not mark the beginning of his existence. And he went on to say-I suppose this made Jesus’ human birthdays awkward. ‘Happy 16th birthday Jesus!’ ‘Thanks mom, but actually it’s my infinite + 16th birthday, but whose counting!’ I love that! Christmas does not celebrate the beginning of Jesus’ existence, but the beginning of His humanity, the beginning of His incarnation. That word incarnation is so important to understand because it’s defined as the physical embodiment of something. For example there’s tv and film incarnations of stories. You pictured the story in your mind when you read the book, but now you can physically see it with your eyes on the screen. When it comes to Christmas, the incarnation is the physical embodiment of deity in earthly form. Remember that God is spirit, He is invisible to our senses, He doesn’t have a form the way that physical things do. But when Jesus was born, He who was 100% God now became 100% man and took on human flesh which our eyes could now see. And that’s the part that fills us with comfort and joy-because the infinite, eternally existing, all-powerful Son of God became a man. I like how Peter reflects on this miracle later in life-2 Pet 1:16-18. Peter is saying that he can tell us about the incarnation because he saw it. I saw Jesus with my own eyes and I heard God acknowledge it from heaven. Jesus wasn’t some shadowy, ghostlike figure impersonating a man, He wasn’t God in disguise. No-Jesus was fully God and fully man-I stood with Him on the mountain, I was there with Him and saw His glory. Peter is still in a state of wonder writing this 30 years afterwards. He’s still amazed that he was an eyewitness to the incarnation, of seeing God in the flesh.
And let’s be honest-it’s hard to get our heads around this idea of Jesus being fully God and fully man. We often tend to think of Him as one or the other-either we think of Him as a human with some superpowers to still a storm and walk on water or we think of Him as God who happened to land on planet earth wearing a robe and some sandals-but it’s hard to hold both truths at once. And yet we have to because that’s what the incarnation is-one person with two natures.
So if you have your Bibles you can open them to Phil 2 where we’ll camp out the rest of the time because it explains it so well-Phil 2:5-7 NIV. So that’s the Christmas story describing Jesus being born in the likeness of men-which happened that night in Bethlehem as Mary gave birth to Jesus. But Paul is being very precise with his language. Think back to creation, how did God describe humans when He made them? Gen 1:26-27. So this doesn’t mean that we were made to have the likeness of God’s divine sovereignty. As humans we don’t have the power of deity like Jesus, we’re not gods or goddesses, we’re just people. But we were made to reflect God’s image and display His likeness by having dominion and rule over the earth, just like God rules over the universe. We were made to be His image bearers and allow His glory to be seen through us as we follow Him, obey Him and steward the earth. So we bear His likeness by how we live. But here’s the interesting part-what was the lie the serpent told to Adam and Eve? Gen 3:4-5. The serpent tried to tempt Adam and Eve with the promise of being like God-even though they already were like God from the basis of creation. God had given Adam and Eve the great privilege of being made in His likeness-something no other part of creation had. God had given them an incredible blessing, an extraordinary identity in being made in His likeness-and yet the serpent tried to twist that truth, to turn it into something selfish and sinful. The serpent wanted them to not be content with being like God in ruling over creation and being a good steward of the earth-but to want to be like God in the sense of being God. And Adam and Eve bought right into that lie. They wanted divinity for themselves-to put themselves in God’s place. They weren’t content with being made in God’s likeness, they wanted to be a god unto themselves and be equal with Him. They were trying to grasp for something that wan’t theirs and never will be. Don’t forget the age-old truth: God is God and we’re not Him.
And that’s a truth we’ve all struggled with accepting-just like Adam and Eve. We’ve tried to grasp after the very same thing they did because we’ve tried to go down our own path, do our own thing and be our own god. Our pride has grasped for control of our lives, not wanting to submit and serve God. But notice how Jesus is the exact opposite of that-back to Phil 2:5-7. This is incredible-here’s Jesus who is fully God, who has all the rights of divinity because of who He is as the second person of the Trinity and yet He doesn’t grasp after that or say give me all my power, I’m in charge around here-let me show these earthlings who’s boss. Jesus doesn’t grasp after equality with God like Adam and Eve tried to do-even though He could have by right. Because think about it-there would have been nothing wrong with Jesus grasping after His divinity-it was who He was-yet He came to earth for a very different purpose. Jesus came as the new Adam, He came as humanity the way it was supposed to be; that instead of being selfish and power hungry, He was humble and desired to obey. But made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant. And then what does it go one to say-Phil 2:8a. Jesus didn’t show up on earth and parade around saying, I’m God, everybody serve me and do what I say. He didn’t grasp after His divinity as a source of pride and power. He certainly could have-greatest being to ever walk the planet-but what did He do instead? He submitted Himself to God the Father and sought to serve others. That’s Miracle#2: The One with all authority grasped at the chance to serve.
That is so vastly different from Adam and Eve and the rest of humanity. We grasp for power and prestige, we long for control and authority and the chance to assert ourselves to do whatever we want-or what we think we deserve. And unfortunately that happens in the church just as much as in the world. We want to be recognized and elevated for our talents, to receive praise and recognition for what we do-and if no one notices we’re bummed out and tempted to quit! We grasp at opportunities to be in charge, but do we grasp for opportunities to serve like Jesus did? Do we grasp for ways to submit to God and humbly follow Him? What would happen if you did? What would happen if your attitude was the same as Jesus by taking the very nature of a servant and humbling yourself? Is that even possible for you? There’s no doubt over the next month you’ll be with your family celebrating Christmas-and theres’s no better time to grasp after humility and the chance to serve than with your family. To say-How can I help out? How can I be a blessing? Instead of grumbling about your family or trying to be the boss and call all the shots. Do you grasp after the chance to serve your family? What about at work? What about at church? Grasping for opportunities to serve others. That’s what this passage is telling us-which is the opposite of how we’re wired. We so want to grasp for ways to make ourselves look good and make sure others are treating us right, but Jesus is showing us something totally different as we follow Him. He grasped for the opportunity to literally lay down His life and put others’ needs ahead of Himself-Phil 2:8. If you’ve ever wondered-what would God look like-what form would He take if we could see Him? This is it. When God chose to reveal Himself in a visible way it was in the form of a servant dying for lost sinners like you and me. Remember what Jesus said about Himself-Mark 10:45. That’s why Jesus is here-and that’s what these tidings of comfort and joy are all about at Christmas. We needed the One who was in the form of God being born in the form of men so that He could take on the form of a servant and save us. That little baby is God in human flesh arriving into our world to do what only He could do. Miracle#3: The One with all power stayed on the cross and died for us. Jesus could have instantly stopped His crucifixion and come off the cross in a moment. He didn’t need to endure all that pain-but He did in order to save us. He didn’t use His power to come off the cross-He used it to stay there and die for us. But that’s who our God is!
I assume at some point over the Christmas season you’ll watch some football-maybe you will this afternoon-but in every game you’ll see the coach standing on the sidelines or pacing on the sidelines instructing his players and telling them what to do. I always like it when the coach holds up the playbook over his mouth so that the opposing team doesn’t know what play he’s calling, but the football coach can only do things from the sidelines. Sure he can instruct and guide and encourage his players, even yell at them, but the coach can’t enter the game. I’m sure that many a coach has wanted to suit up and go out there and run the play himself but he can’t, that’s not what coaches do. But with Jesus it’s entirely different. He doesn’t just stay on the sidelines of our lives and tell us what to do. He doesn’t stand up there in heaven and shout down plays for us to run, instead He enters the game, He’s come into our world to do what we couldn’t do-and that’s save us. Jesus isn’t some detached, uninterested, sidelines coach who keeps His distance and doesn’t get involved and only paces back and forth when He’s mad at us. Jesus literally suits up by taking on our human flesh, by being born in the likeness of men and living the obedient life we never did. In sticking with the football analogy He ran the plays perfectly-and never once fumbled the ball or got flagged for holding. He did it all right because we had done it all wrong-and then He eventually gave up His life and died the death that should have been ours so that we could be forgiven and made new. Jesus enters the game, He arrives into our world, He invades our lives, the Creator descends into His creation-Chester, One True Gift, 34. Back to Phil 2:5-8. And that’s what brings us to communion this morning.