Incarnation is a hot word these days. It is used to describe ministry among the poor, the outcast, and the disenfranchised with an emphasis on the word “among” rather than “to”. To come alongside, to become one with, to share life with those who for so long have been ministered “to” from a safe distance is an expression of living out the Kingdom of God now even as we await the true return of the king.
This is in reality a very faithful and good way to live. And by these acts of incarnational love many have had their burdens lightened and their hearts drawn toward the Lord. But our acquisition of this language can also cheapen the meaning of the deeper reality of incarnation.
At the heart of God’s creation, when “what is” moved from chaos to order, all that was made was declared good. Only humanity was declared “very good”. Humanity bore the image of God in a way unique to all of creation. And much ink has been spilt trying to describe precisely what this image-bearing entails. There is unfathomable mystery here. But this we do know; we rebelled. And the consequence of our rebellion poured out into all of creation. Pain and death and decay and enmity and strife arose throughout all that God had made because of our unique place in the midst of His creation. In Humanity becoming rebel, all creation was set adrift.
So it is not some random plan of God that He should restore what he had made through becoming a human. Only a human could pay for the sins of humanity, and only a human with no guilt of his own could cover the guilt of another. And so “God made him who had no sin to become sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21) and this for our sakes. And this, God’s act of incarnation is more than an expression of kingdom values, it is the very establishment of the Kingdom.
The small gulf we cross when we reach out to those far from us is indeed small. But God, who was before anything was ever made, who has all power, who needs nothing, became a part of his creation. He became small, and vulnerable, and weak, and needy. The Creator became part of the creation in order to set all creation right. But He became not just part of creation but in particular became human. Through humanity’s fall all creation fell into decay and only though a human could it be set aright. This again is mystery, but its truth is crystal clear. How could the creator become the created? The gulf is beyond measure. And yet He did. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” – the Incarnation from which all other acts of incarnational love draw their meaning and power. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!