“Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.” “When God restores the fortunes of his people, let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.” “Light is sown for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart. Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous, and give thanks to his holy name.” For the sunrise has visited us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
Of old God has shown himself merciful and gracious. He created the world. He led the sons of Israel out of Egypt. He fed our fathers with manna from heaven. He caused them to inherit the land of the promise. He raised up judges and kings, he gave us victory over Goliath, he made his promises stand firm. God is the eternal philanthropist, the almighty lover of man. But God’s people of old did not celebrate anything like we celebrate today. Today we celebrate that God’s philanthropy has come in the flesh. So greatly does God love man that the Son of God was made man.
This is a great mystery. The Son of God has a divine nature and a human nature, united but unconfused. From eternity “the Word was God.” And in time “the Word became flesh.” We cannot grasp this with our frail reason, but we can grasp it with faith and respond as the people did who heard the report of the shepherds: “and all who heard it wondered.” And the more we wonder at the Incarnation of God’s Son, the more wonderful it becomes.
Certainly Christ’s divine nature is in itself a cause of great wonder. If anything in the created world causes us wonder, then the divinity through whom it came into existence is an even greater source of wonder. The Son of God is more expansive than the sky, broader than the ocean, higher than the highest mountain, stronger than the strongest storm. He sees all and knows all and is everywhere.
Yet an even greater wonder is that the Son of God has inseparably united to his divine nature a human nature. He has done this in such a way that the lower nature was not consumed by the higher, nor the higher impaired by the lower, and each nature retains its essential characteristics.
This has led to some marvelous paradoxes: He who has no beginning had a beginning. He who cannot be contained chose to be contained. Eternal life assumed mortal flesh. He who is equal to the Father took the form of a slave, becoming like us in every way, except without the corruption of sin. Long ago man had been overcome by the devil, but now the devil would be overcome by a man.
Yet not just any man. The God-man. “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,” as it says in Colossians 2. And by virtue of its union with the divine nature, Jesus’ body can do things no other body could do. In Matthew 9 a ruler came to Jesus, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” And “he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose.” Can your hand raise the dead? I know my hand can’t. But Jesus’ human hand can.
In Mark 6 Jesus sent the disciples ahead of him in a boat across the Sea of Galilee. “And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea.” Our bodies can’t do that. But Jesus’ body can. In John 9 Jesus saw a man who had been blind from birth. Jesus “spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.” A blind man would probably thank us to keep our spit to ourselves. But Jesus’ spit can restore sight to the blind.
Now all of these divine uses of the human nature demonstrate what Jesus was always doing with his human nature. He was constantly using his human nature in extraordinary ways for our salvation. Jesus became a man under God’s law in order to fulfill the law, which we had transgressed. As the God-man Jesus was righteous according to the law. And as the God-man he had the ability to transfer his righteousness to us. And so as it says in Galatians 4, “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”
And the wonder of the Incarnation grows as we approach the crucifixion. For the God-man “bore our sins in his body on the tree,” as St. Peter writes. No man could bear the sins of another, but Jesus could. The divine nature could not suffer on a cross, but Jesus could. No man could wash away sins with his blood, but it says in 1 John 1 that “the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin.” The divine nature could not die, but Jesus could. No man could take up his life again after dying, but Jesus could.
“Oh sing to the Lord a new song,” the psalmist cries in Psalm 98, “for he has done wonders! His right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him.” Our foe, the ancient serpent, finds his head pummeled into the earth by the second Adam’s heel. The flaming sword turns its back, the Cherubim move aside from the Tree of Life, and we partake of paradise.
And what better way to celebrate Christmas than with Christ’s mass? For here in the Divine Service God continues his philanthropy. Today you receive the body and blood of Christ, the body and blood that are inseparably united to the divine nature of God’s Son. And the wonder of the Incarnation continues. No mere human body can forgive sins, but Jesus’ body can. No mere human body can be present everywhere, yet the body of Jesus can be in heaven and on earth, on our altar and on every other altar at the same time. No mere human body can be contained in its fullness in a wafer the size of a quarter, but Jesus’ body can. Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, O you righteous, for the Word has become flesh and made his dwelling among us. Amen.