Christmas Eve Homily: Joy of the Incarnation

For the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at Providence Church.

When we think of Christmas, one of the first words that usually comes to mind is “joy.” We hear it in our carols, we read it on Christmas cards, and we hear it in the angel’s proclamation to the shepherd’s. For many people today, however, joy is one of the last things they feel during this time. Stress of planning gatherings, family strife, and unmet expectations rob us of our joy.

The Nativity of our Lord, however, is one of the greatest causes of joy. The news of the Incarnation is “good news of a great joy that will be for all people.” (Lk. 2.10) Christmas comes during to darkest time of the year with the joyful news that the Light has come.

The Nativity Icon

Christmas brings us joy because it is the news that God is with us. Isaiah prophesied that the virgin-born Messiah would be Immanuel, “God with us.” (Matt. 1.23; Is. 7.14) In the Incarnation,God tabernacled, or dwelt, among us.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1.14)

In the Old Covenant, God’s presence was always veiled. But now, in Christ, John says “…we have seen his glory…” In the person of Jesus, God took on flesh and revealed himself to us and took residence with us, humbling himself (Phil. 2.) And, in entering our world, he entered into our suffering and pain. He was fully God and fully man. As Kevin Bauder recently said,

He was also born with a completely human body—specifically, a male body—that had all the appendages intact and functional. He experienced human growth as a human child in a human family, gained human insight through human learning, expressed Himself in human language, endured human hunger, thirst, weariness, and pain, felt human love, joy, compassion, fear, sorrow, and anger, experienced human betrayal, died a human death, and ultimately gained a human resurrection.

Jesus entered into humanity, in all our pain and sorrow, in order to redeem us from sin and death. The incarnation was necessary for our redemption.

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2.14-18)

The Son of God took on human flesh because a human sacrifice was necessary for human sin. But only One who is eternal could fully bear the weight of God’s wrath against our sin. Jesus, the God-Man, is both the sacrifice and the priest, offering himself before the Father on our behalf. (And, as the author of Hebrews points out, he continues to intercede for us and help us in our temptation, because he faced the same temptations as a man.)

Jesus not only dwelt among us, but He did so in order that we might dwell in the Godhead. The Incarnation unites the divine and human in Christ, and (in union with Christ) in us as well. In Christ, we are brought into the eternal fellowship of the Trinity (1 John 1.) We are brought into fellowship with God, and with one another. And this fellowship is a fellowship of complete joy. God in Christ came to dwell with us, and he brings us into the eternal indwelling of the Father and Son in the Spirit; and we, now, are called to indwell one another. Here what Peter Leithart says about this ‘mutual indwelling’:

For Jesus, incorporation into the communion of the Father and Son by the Spirit overflows into the life of the community. The church is not only the tabernacle of God in the Spirit, but each member makes room for every other. Christmas is good news, but like all good news from God it comes with a demand: God dwells with you; dwell with one another. God made room in humanity for Himself to make room in Himself for humanity; therefore, stretch our to make room for others in yourself. God tabernacled among you; stretch your tent curtains so others can pitch near you.

So, this Christmas, make room in your heart and life for Jesus; take joy in the eternal communion of the Triune God. And follow Jesus’ example in entering into the lives of one another, bringing the good news of joy in Christ.