It is incomprehensible that God should become a man, yet every Christmas, children grasp this story with ease. This is the nature of the mystery: easy yet profound; simple yet elusive; received by faith but a tripwire for the wise.

A Child Is Born: Reflections on Incarnation and the Grand Plan of God

by Dean Briggs
1 month ago Featured

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given. (Isaiah 9:6)

Let’s begin here: Merry Christmas, friends! If you are like me, during the season of Advent, you rightly ponder the many beautiful, perplexing mysteries of that singular, historic event we call the incarnation of Jesus. Like the most stunningly sculpted diamond filled with endless, shimmering facets, the incarnation invites our blinking, awestruck gaze. We are left dazzled, frustrated, and overwhelmed precisely because we can’t ever seem to grasp the whole diamond at once, yet to ponder any part is to attempt the whole. Captivated by each brief, revelatory glimpse, our souls take flight even as the brain short-circuits to behold the elegance and audacity of this mystery.

It is incomprehensible that God should become a man, yet every Christmas, children grasp this story with ease. This is the nature of the mystery: easy yet profound; simple yet elusive; received by faith but a tripwire for the wise. From start to finish, the gospel is a simultaneous event. It is a rescue operation but also a military action; it is a restoration plan, a romance, a judgment on evil, and a prophecy of hope. A grafting in and gifting to. A ransom paid. A promise kept. It is an emperor becoming a pauper so that orphans and slaves could become children and kings. It is a God-sized answer to our hopeless human condition; a cross rising from our quagmire, in which case the Bethlehem stable—as an act of wild, pure, incursive life—offers a baby’s plaintive cry as down payment for the forthcoming cancellation of death.

You see? Facet after facet. We should lose ourselves more, not less, in the shimmering glory of this story. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that “in the Incarnation the whole human race recovers the dignity of the image of God.” To restore the divine image of humanity, the divine became human. The Word became flesh. Every question we have about God, Jesus answered. Yet while endless titles have been devoted to this subject, we have yet to exhaust the mystery. We aren’t even close.

God. Became. Man. The divine became human. The infinite became finite.

Years after the fact, the disciple who may have been the closest friend to Jesus remained stunned by his living interaction with God. Decades after the ascension, John the Beloved starts his letter in 1 John describing his friend, the one who was “from the beginning.” But then, still dazzled after all those years, continues to say that he and the other disciples had actually “heard, . . . seen with [their] eyes, . . . looked upon and . . . touched with [their] hands” (1 John 1:1 ESV). Feel what John is saying here: “God was my friend. We ate together. He looked like me. He was like me! Human! For more than three years, I walked with Him.”

No less an intellectual than Augustine of Hippo struggled to articulate this conundrum. “Man’s maker was made man that He, Ruler of the stars, might nurse at His mother’s breast; that the Bread might hunger, the Fountain thirst, the Light sleep, the Way be tired on its journey; that Truth might be accused of false witnesses, the Teacher be beaten with whips, the Foundation be suspended on wood; that Strength might grow weak; that the Healer might be wounded; that Life might die.”

Other writers, apparently feeling bankrupted by the more linear, tactile descriptions, drifted toward metaphor and symbol to convey new facets. The English Puritan John Boys wrote, “The best way to reconcile two disagreeing families is to make some marriage between them: Even so, the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us in the world that He might hereby make our peace, reconciling God to man and man to God. By this happy match the Son of God is become the Son of Man, even flesh of our flesh, and bone of our bones; and the sons of men are made the sons of God.”

Right. The incarnation is about a wedding. A bridegroom and a bride. Add that to the list.

So now we must glance back to our text in Isaiah, whom the early church father, Jerome, called “the Fifth Evangelist.” This is because Isaiah constantly and poetically described the divine incursion we now call the Man Christ Jesus. Over 66 chapters he so frequently and accurately described the life of Christ (though 700 years before Jesus was born) that he really should be read alongside Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Let’s briefly turn our gaze toward two of Jesus’ facets Isaiah describes in verses 6 and 7:

1) The Man was first a baby.

2) That same Man has (completely) but also extends (increasingly) all dominion.

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given; 
and the government shall be upon his shoulder.
. . . 
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end. (Isaiah 9:6–7 ESV; emphasis added)

The Passion Translation renders this, 

The responsibility of complete dominion 
will rest on his shoulders. (Isaiah 9:6 TPT)

Get this: in a human context, God grows. He started as a baby, grew to a man. We tend to move swiftly to the man and His ministry—His Messianic miracles, suffering, and glory—but to fulfill His plan, God actually saw fit to dwell and mature in the womb of a woman first. He didn’t circumvent a human process, he confirmed and revealed it. The womb is a sanctuary of life, but don’t miss this staggering fact: not only human life. Mary grew God. There is no other way around this. The womb of a woman has been elevated, redeemed, and consecrated to bring forth sons of God. It is, in fact, a Jewish man, born of a woman, who is returning one day to rule and reign forever as the Son of God. This is why abortion is a heinous, demonic doctrine, since every generation is meant to point toward Eden restored, and more. What Adam and Eve were privileged to produce as expressions of the mandate for dominion first given in Genesis 1:26, the incarnation vouches for again as part of humanity’s position in the cosmos: “Be fruitful! Multiply! Take dominion!”God used human agency, human beings, human limitations, human DNA to reveal Himself, and He still does. Jesus not only restored the divine image, He also restored the divine process manifested in a manner that is inescapably human. This is so troubling to a religiously-bound mind that many have tried to take sandpaper to those sparkling facets to scuff and dull them, yet to explain this away or diminish the staggering implications of the incarnation is to flirt with gnosticism.

Among the many ramifications, I offer these few: First, in a natural sense, we must not diminish the value of women or the nobility of the womb. Similarly, we must cherish the only relational dynamic capable of reproducing the image of God, which is the union of a man and a woman. We must permit ourselves to be awestruck at the patient investment of God in the slow process of maturation, weakness, vulnerability, and dependence on others. Therefore, in a spiritual sense, we must embrace a sanctification within ourselves that begins small and weak but is no less beautiful to God.

Second, if we do this, if we see that God’s answer to the rage of Satan was a human child, then I believe we are simultaneously granted both the tools and permission to see that the restoration of the divine image does not preclude the Genesis mandate nor confine it to that man alone, but to the extension of His race, His brethren, His offspring. The dominion of Christ as man means the intended dominion of man is restored and is being restored. Humans once again participate in the process of divine governance. The broken links between heaven–earth are bridged in the divine–man. The incarnation was an intercessory act, concluding with an intercessory sacrifice, both temporal and eternal, that positioned God Himself as the perfect puzzle piece in the gap of our human experience. Our failure became His inheritance, that His glory might become ours. On our behalf, He secured a great exchange by which the virtue of His life was transferred to our account free of charge. Even more than forgiveness of debt, we have been reborn. A new, holy race (1 Peter 2:9). As such, we are now invited to be, think, and act like Him, just as He lived, thought, and acted like us. Jesus said, “All authority has been given to Me” (Matthew 28:18), but Isaiah beat Matthew to the punch: “The responsibility of complete dominion will rest on his shoulders.” The troubles and trauma of election 2020 does not bereft Him of dominion. His throne is secure.

To us, He simply says, “Therefore, go.”

I have all authority. I give it to you. Act like Me. As I was in the world, so now are you.

John the Beloved said as much. He began his letter with the mystery of the incarnation of Christ, his friend, but ended with the incarnating power of Christ in us, promising total transformation and the same redemptive mission: “Love has been perfected among us . . . because as He is, so are we in this world” (1 John 4:17; emphasis added).

In summary, after all that lofty theology, here’s the devotional takeaway: Do not despise your smallness, your weakness. In your personal history, do not shrink back from your Bethlehem beginning, your stable-and-straw story. Do not let your failures and sins prevent you from grasping this miracle, that a lesser but no less glorious incarnation continues in you! The character and power of the Son of God is being formed in you! You are the stable. You are the vessel of His Spirit. You are the womb of God, embedded with the divine seed. You are becoming the fulfillment of His grand plan. From eternity past, He intended a people to be conformed to His image. Redeemed humans are part of a corporate Bride. So while the slow process of spotlessness is disconcerting to us, it is delightful to Him. By grace, His complete dominion extends even to the place of your great fear and weakness. Let Him grow to fullness within you.

Sons and daughters of the living God, Merry Christmas.

What will you meditate on regarding the incarnation and its meaning for your life?

Want to close out 2020 with a shout of praise to Jesus? Join IHOPKC and ministries from across the world for the Global Upper Room prayer meeting online this New Year’s Eve. Learn more and stream with us at ihopkc.org/glo.

Dean Briggs

position

    Dean is happily married to Jeanie, and the proud father of eight grown children. His books include Ekklesia RisingConsumed, the visionary, two-part Partakers of the Divine, and the YA fantasy series, Legends of Karac Tor. He also co-authored The Jesus Fast with Lou Engle, now available in multiple languages. A former pastor and church planter, Dean is a consultant, dreamer, and Bible teacher. As part of the senior leadership of IHOPKC, he travels and speaks around the world. The Briggs live in the midwest.

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