Glory to God in the highest, who made Himself lowest and for us men and for our salvation took the form of a slave! The Lord has fulfilled His ancient promise. The Seed of the woman has come. The Virgin conceived and bore a Son, and He is Immanuel, God with us. And not just God with us, but God as one of us. This is a great mystery, one into which angels long to look, and one into which we long to look, particularly on this day when we celebrate the Nativity of our Lord. But how shall our minds scale the heights of so lofty a doctrine? Human reason is powerless to grasp this great mystery of the Incarnation. Yet the understanding that we lack according to the frailty of our minds God provides through His Word, so that we can grasp things that are above us. For God Himself gives us the words so that we can speak of our Lord Jesus Christ rightly. Our minds cannot ascend there, but His Word can descend here and draw us to Himself.
And is that not what we celebrate this day? That the Word of God has descended from heaven to earth, stooped down to our frailty, and raised us on high in Himself? So let us ponder this mystery of the Incarnation of our Lord and delight in paradox and savor that doctrine which we could never comprehend from our darkened minds but of which Christ has made us partakers through the illumination of the Scriptures.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God” (Jn. 1:1-2). This passage says very clearly that the Word, the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity has existed from eternity. At the same time, He says in Psalm 2, “I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten You’” (Ps. 2:7). The Son of God is begotten of His Father. Yet this does not mean that the Son of God came into existence. He is God. He says, “I am the first and the last” (Rev. 1:17). The Son of God had no beginning. Rather He is the beginning of all things. He was in the beginning with His Father, and all things were made through Him.
Consider this divine nature of the Son of God for a moment. Through Him all things were made. He has the power to raise up the earth into mountains and press it down into valleys, to gather the waters into seas and tell them, “This far you may come, but no farther, And here your proud waves must stop!” (Job 38:11). The Son of God knows all things. He says, “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind” (Jer. 17:10), and the psalmist confesses, “O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down, And are acquainted with all my ways” (Ps. 139:1-3). The Son of God commands the angels, sends rain, grants fruitfulness to the earth, makes the deer give birth, and strips the forests bare (Ps. 29:9). “He counts the number of the stars; He calls them all by name” (Ps. 147:4). He sets up kings and deposes them, he governs all the kingdoms of the world. He at the same time holds all the planets in order and causes the smallest seed to sprout from the soil.
And today we rejoice because this Son of God has become a man. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn. 1:14). As if contemplating the divine nature weren’t wonderful enough, think about what it meant when God became a man. It meant that He whose Word the mountains rendeth, He who fills all things and cannot be contained, He who is a consuming fire and before whom mortals are like the grass of the field – this Son of God took on our flesh and chose to be contained in the womb of the Virgin Mary. And nothing catastrophic happened, but instead in that womb divinity and humanity came together in the one person of God’s Son for our salvation. Now it is not the nature of God to grow, for He is already everywhere. But Jesus grew in Mary’s womb, not because the divine nature had changed, but because it is the nature of man to grow, and the Son of God had taken such a human nature. It is not the nature of God to learn, for He already knows all things. But Jesus learned, again not because His divine nature had changed, but because He had assumed a human nature, and it is the nature of man to learn what he does not know.
The Lord is very precise in Scripture when speaking to us of this profound mystery. The Lord does not attribute the things of His human nature to His divine nature, things like being born or dying, but says, for example, that he “was descended from David according to the flesh” (Rom. 1:3) and “suffered in the flesh” (1 Pet. 4:1). So when Jesus hungered or thirsted or prayed for something He needed, He did so according to His human nature, whereas when Jesus commanded the storm to be still or “knew their thoughts” (Lk. 6:8), He did so according to His divine nature.
And yet these two natures are not separate persons; but the one person, the Son of God, has two natures: a divine nature that He has had from eternity, and a human nature that He assumed in the fullness of time. And therefore the Lord does not speak in Scripture of the human nature doing this or the divine nature doing that, but He, the Son of God, Jesus, does it all in His one person. So while it is a quality of the human nature and not the divine nature to grow and learn, the Scripture doesn’t say that Jesus’ human nature increased in wisdom and stature. It simply says in Scripture, “Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature” (Lk. 2:52). What happens according to one nature is attributed to the whole person.
Here we begin to get to the heart of this mystery of the Incarnation. Jesus took on a human nature because in order to save us He needed to be able to do certain things that, and this might sound strange at first, he needed to be able to do certain things that the divine nature cannot do. He needed to be subject to the Law and be able to suffer and die if He was going to save us. But the Incarnation shows that, while there may be things that the divine nature cannot do of itself, God’s hands are not tied, He lacks nothing, and nothing is impossible for Him (Lk. 1:37). When the Son of God took to Himself a human nature and inseparably joined it to His person, He thereby made a way to do that which He had not been able to do. He made a way to be subject to the Law, He made a way to suffer, He made a way to die.
And this is why we celebrate Christmas with such joy. Even though our salvation is not fully accomplished at the Incarnation of our Lord, nevertheless when we see something that seemed impossible now gloriously possible, wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger, we know that salvation has come. And when we see the lengths to which the Son of God went in taking to Himself all things needful for our salvation so that He and He alone is the Savior who has in Himself everything necessary for forgiving sins and rescuing from death and the devil, when we see that “in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col. 2:9) – when we see this great work of His that He undertook purely for our sake, our hearts for very joy must leap, and therefore we celebrate Christmas as one of the greatest days of the year.
Now I noted that our Lord speaks very precisely in Scripture and does not attribute qualities of the human nature to the divine nature. Scripture is clear that the divine nature suffered no loss from its union with a human nature in the person of Jesus. But in Jesus the human nature did not remain unaffected, as much as it is still a human nature. In the Gospels we see Jesus doing things with a human body that a human body cannot do according to its own nature. Peter’s mother-in-law was lying sick with a fever, and “He touched her hand, and the fever left her” (Mt. 8:15). A leper begged Jesus to cleanse him, and Jesus reached out His hand and touched the leper, and instead of Jesus becoming unclean by contact with the leper, the leper was cleansed by the touch of Jesus’ human hand (Mt. 8:3). When Jesus sent the disciples ahead of Him in a boat across the Sea of Galilee, and then later joined them, Jesus walked on water, and His human feet treated the waves as if they were solid ground (Mt. 14:25). To prove just how powerful His human nature is because of its union with the divine nature, Jesus even used His spit to do miraculous things. Jesus healed a man who was mute by spitting on His hand and touching the man’s tongue (Mk. 7:33). Jesus healed a man who was born blind by spitting on the ground, making mud with His saliva, putting it on the man’s eyes, and then sending him to go wash (Jn. 9:6-7). So the Lord is very particular in Scripture that His divinity did not suffer from union with humanity. But His human body, which is the same human body and nature that we have, save without sin – His human body gained much from its union with the divine nature.
Now take all of this and consider what happened on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Jesus showed in the Garden of Gethsemane that He was still fully God. When the band of men came to arrest Him, He asked, “Whom do you seek?” and they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said, “I am,” and they all fell to the ground (Jn. 18:5-6). Peter tried to defend Jesus and drew His sword and struck off the right ear of the high priest’s servant. Jesus healed the man’s ear with a touch of His hand and said to Peter, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and He will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” (Mt. 26:53-54). And there you see who entered the lists for you on Good Friday. It was God, who could pronounce His divine name and make men fall before Him. It was a man, whose body could be seized by lawless men. It was the God-man, who with His human hand could do divine works. It was Jesus, who chose not to exercise His divine nature to its full extent so that He could do what needed to be done to save us.
Therefore, on the cross hung a man who was under the Law, a man who fulfilled that Law. On the cross hung God, who could take the righteousness He had acquired and apply it to more men than just Himself. On the cross hung Jesus, who as God could transfer the guilt of sin from all men to Himself while remaining sinless, who as man could suffer and die for that sin, who as God could be the perfect sacrifice for man, who as man could stand in the place of man. It would be wrong to say that the divine nature suffered and died for us on Good Friday. But because Jesus is God, and Jesus died for us on Good Friday, it is not wrong to say that God died for us. And because Jesus is God, God with flesh and blood, whose blood was shed on the cross, it is not wrong to say that God’s blood was shed. Now consider what that means. When your sins against you rise, when the devil torments your conscience, you can say, “Ah, but there’s God’s blood and there’s God’s death, and no puny sin of mine is more powerful than that.”
And then Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus had said, “I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again” (Jn. 10:17-18). According to His human nature He could die. According to His divine nature He was the Lord of life and could determine the time for life and the time for death. And so Jesus the God-man actively chose to give up His spirit, and actively chose to take up His life again. This Lord of life and death is the Lord of your life and your death. When danger looms or death draws near, you can say, “A man has passed through danger and death ahead of me. Jesus, with His human body, sat up on the death slab, and stood up on His human feet, and walked out of the tomb, and so shall I.”
Moreover, Jesus ascended into heaven. Jesus has brought humanity before the throne of God in heaven in His own person, showing that He has fully reconciled God and man, showing that all things have been placed under His human feet, and as a man He fills and directs all things. Again, consider what this means. When you face things in this life that don’t make sense, and you wonder, “Why, God? Why is this happening?” remember that the Lord who directs your life is the same one who orchestrated the Incarnation. Who else could have come up with this means of saving man? And even after God did it and the Son of God became a man, we still cannot fully understand it. Our minds fail and we can only bend the knee to the Word of God. And that posture toward the Incarnation teaches us how we go about all of life. There is much else in this world that is not going to make sense to us, just as the Incarnation of Jesus doesn’t make full sense to us. But consider the great benefits of the Incarnation, and see that even if your mind cannot fully comprehend the great works of God, nevertheless you can know that He does all of them out of His grace and for your eternal well-being. The Incarnation of our Lord proves that even in the things that don’t make sense to our reason – especially in the things that don’t make sense to our reason – Jesus is working for your good.
Jesus wants you to have His Incarnation constantly in mind because it is of such importance to our lives: for forgiveness of sins, for deliverance from death and the devil, for a refuge and comfort in life’s trials. And so Jesus frequently holds His incarnation before us in the Sacrament of the Altar and says, “This do in remembrance of Me.” Don’t forget the Incarnation. This morning Jesus gives us His very body and blood. It is a human body and human blood. And because it is God’s human body and human blood, it can do things that no other human flesh and blood can do, as it says in 1 John 1, “The blood of Jesus...cleanses us from all sin.” Our human blood cannot cleanse from sin, but Jesus’ human blood can. This is the same flesh and blood that lay in the manger in Bethlehem, that was nailed to the cross, that rose from the dead. This is the man of whom the angels sang at His birth, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” Our incarnate Lord comes to us again today.
So peace, peace to you and great joy! God is a man. Jesus is still incarnate and always will be. He is forever the God-man: forever our Lord and our God, forever our Brother according to the flesh. Glory be to Jesus, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.