Posts Tagged ‘incarnation’

Well it’s nearly Advent so it’s time for preachers to think about Carols services, Christingles, Nativity plays, etc.

It’s also a time to miss a golden opportunity.  The golden opportunity is to preach a theology of incarnation.  But, year in and year out, this chance is missed in evangelical churches.

Our mentions of incarnation boil down to the Abrupt, the Apologetic or the Anselmian.

The Abrupt:

“God in skin. Weird huh? Anyway…”

The Apologetic:

“Jesus shows up in time and space which means that we can verify the truth through historical methods, and really the New Testament documents are very reliable don’t you know…”

The Anselmian:

“God basically wants to acquit his elect and so needs a Scapegoat to take the fall. And there he is the manger. Weird huh?  Anyway…”

Where are the Athanasian, Atoning, Abasing themes?

The Athanasian Incarnation:

“In this marvellous exchange, He becomes what we are, that we might become what He is”?

The Atoning Incarnation:

“Here is God-With-Us, making us at-one in His very Person!”

The Abasing Incarnation:

My God is so small, so weak and so helpless, there’s nothing that He will not do… for you!

I wonder if we shy away from the Athanasian incarnation because we don’t want to get into (or don’t properly understand) the trinitarian theology that makes sense of it.

I wonder if we shy away from the Atoning incarnation because ontology has no place in our thinking about atonement.  (This is also why our Easter sermons contain no theology of resurrection – only a ‘proof that the cross worked’.)

I wonder if we shy away from the Abasing incarnation because we’re wedded to a theology of glory that refuses to countenance the little LORD Jesus.

If any of these guesses are anywhere near the mark, let me suggest a remedy.  Read Athanasius’ On the Incarnation and hear the kind of Christmas message that has warmed the hearts of millions down through the ages.  Get started here as you listen to Mike Reeves read extracts.

And for what they’re worth, here are three of my own posts on incarnation:

Incarnation and Trinity

Incarnation and Creation

Incarnation and Salvation

(For good measure here’s a paper on Athanasius and Irenaeus)

These are some talks in which I’ve tried to preach this theology…


Christmas is God laying hold of us – Hebrews 2:14-18

The Coming King – Psalm 72

In the beginning… – John 1:1-2

The Word became flesh – John 1:14

Christmas brings a crisis – John 1:15-18

Student Carols – Isaiah 9

Evangelistic carols service – Light shining in darkness – Isaiah 9:2-7 (different to the other Isaiah 9)

Luke 1:26-38

All-age: Christmas turns slaves to sons – Galatians 4:4-7

All-age Carols Talk: Christmas is weird – Phil 2:5-11


Here are some songs on the same theme and the Anti-Santy video


What resources have you found helpful?  Please share the wealth in comments…

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Dear Christmas Preachers,

Did you know that Christmas is about the incarnation?  No, but seriously, did you?  Cos I aint hearing much theology of incarnation.  Which is odd, don’t you think?

Visiting the worthy sermon repositories in England and the US, I’ve listened to dozens of “Christmas sermons” over advent.   Yet I’ve found that, if the incarnation is mentioned at all, it’s mentioned as a stark fact – something merely to wrap our heads around: “God in skin. Weird huh? Anyway…”

Or as an excuse to talk up ‘history’: “Jesus shows up in time and space which means that we can verify the truth through historical methods, and really the New Testament documents are very reliable don’t you know…”

Or as a line in some Anselmian argument: “God basically wants to acquit his elect and so needs a Scapegoat to take the fall. So there he is the manger. Weird huh?  Anyway…”

In my experience, even that kind of mention is about as incarnation-y as it gets for your average Christmas sermon.

Where is the whole “He became what we are, that we might become what He is”?  (Are we so functionally unitarian that we can’t really make Athanasius work for us?)  Where is a theology of God-with-us?  (Are we so Latin in our theology of the atonement  that ontology seems irrelevant to the question?)  Where do we exult in the “divine-self-emptying”?  (Are we so wedded to a theology of glory that we refuse to countenance the little LORD Jesus?).

Anyway, it’s Thawed-Out-Thursday so here’s an old article on Incarnation from the ‘freezer’ (and links to two more).  The three are:

Incarnation and Trinity

Incarnation and Creation

Incarnation and Salvation

(And for good measure here’s a paper on Athanasius and Irenaeus)

Below is Incarnation and Creation.  Have a read.  Or, much much better, go and read On the Incarnation.  Seriously, it’ll make your Christmas!



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Jesus went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone,  but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.  During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake… Jesus said to them: “Take courage! I AM. Don’t be afraid.”  (Matthew 14:23-27)

There He is – communing with His Father on high.

There are His people, buffeted by the waves.

What does He do?  Simply pray for them?  Give advice from a distance?  No, He joins them.

He walks through the storm and treads on the abyss and does everything in His power to be with His beloved.  Fighting through the powers of chaos, He declares His divine name – I AM.  Here is the One who descends into His people’s affliction to bring them out.

So take courage.  Fear not.  The I AM has come to bring us home.

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Just did a crib service meditating on the littleness of the little LORD Jesus.  Most of the congregation were not regular church goers.  And so as I spoke there was another voice in my head.

It was the voice of a hundred other Christmas sermons I’ve heard.  You know the part where you’re meant to challenge the saccharine sweet domestication of Jesus with an embarassed: “But of course the baby in the manger grew up.  We mustn’t leave Jesus in the crib!  He’s a full grown man now you know!  Don’t look down on Jesus.”


It’s the attempt to wake people up from their preconceptions and show them something surprising.  But you know the way to really shock people.  Dwell on the manger.  Make a determined effort to look down on Jesus.  And proclaim that here – right here – is the true and living God.  That’ll wake em up from their preconceptions.

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…continued from here

Is salvation achieved merely by the incarnation?

Both Irenaeus and Athanasius are commonly accused of making the ‘bare fact’ of incarnation the sum total of Christ’s saving work.  Yet this is unfair.

For Irenaeus, Christ’s filling out of Adam’s distorted image means necessarily a “filling up [of] the times of his disobedience” (Ad. Her. III.21.1)  In taking on Adam’s substance, He took on Adam’s curse – this He satisfied at the cross, ‘propitiating indeed for us the Father, against Whom we had sinned’ (Ad. Her. V.17.1) and ‘redeeming us by His own blood’ (Ad. Her. V.14.3).  Having put Adam to death, the resurrection then realizes Christ’s spiritual body bringing about the true glorified humanity to which the redeemed will belong and on which the renewed creation will be patterned.

Athanasius calls the cross “the very centre of our faith.”  For him, the curse of death is a key consideration.  Within the creation narratives comes God’s decree: “You will surely die.”  The word of Genesis 2:17 must be maintained lest God be proved false and, ironically, the serpent proved true.  Christ’s incarnation is therefore that by which the Word can take a body capable of death “so that in His death all might die, and the law of death thereby be abolished.” (De incarn. 8) Moreover this death is specifically a sacrifice (De. Incarn. 9; 10; 20) made under God’s curse (De incarn. 25) and offered without blemish (De. Incarn. 9) so as to be a ransom (De. Incarn. 9; 25) freeing us from Adam’s ‘primal transgression’.  “In the same act also He showed Himself mightier than death, displaying His own body incorruptible as the first-fruits of the resurrection.”

Thus, while the Bishops both see the union of divine and human as the goal of God’s creation-redemption purposes; and while the ‘Word become flesh’ is their sole hope for this union; the ‘bare fact’ will not do on its own. The nature of Adam’s race requires much work to be done.  Mankind must turn from idols to the Truth, we must receive and truly own an active righteousness before the Father, Satan has to be defeated, justice must be upheld, sin must be dealt with, incorruptibility must be won.  Thus, Christ’s divine teaching, His demonstrations of authority over man, nature and the devil, His active obedience, His suffering, His death, His resurrection and His ascension are all crucial in order to accomplish redemption.

Yet, against those (especially the Arians), who would uphold the necessity of these works yet deny the Person who worked them, it must be maintained that the Agent of these works is God and the locus of their working is man.  These works are, therefore, only effective because they are the works of the God-Man.  Thus, the incarnation is the necessary cause of redemption, but sufficient only when articulated as the full work of the Incarnate, Creator-Word.

In the final post I’ll draw out some implications for today…


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This post first appeared last year in a series of three on the incarnation.  The other two are: Incarnation and trinity and Incarnation and salvation.


Christ is “The Beginning”, “The Alpha”, “The First”.  His Person is itself the basis for creation.  He is the One who is eternally Other from the Father and the foundation for all else that is other than Him.  Because of Him, through Him and for Him flows a creation.

Christ is by nature and eternally from the Father in the Spirit.

Creation is by grace and in time from the Father through the Son and in the Spirit.

This shows us

a) the spreading goodness of the triune God, Whose being is outwardly curved.  Creation is not necessary to God.  But God’s being, like a fountain, by nature overflows.  It is a being going out towards the other.

b) creation is not a free floating reality but something beginning in the Son, crafted by Him, cohering in Him and headed towards Him as His inheritance.  While God’s being reaches out towards the other it is simultaneously a being that draws the other in bonds of love.

These twin tendencies – the going out and the drawing in – find fulfilment in creation and incarnation.

Let’s think about Genesis 1.  The heavens (masculine) and the earth (feminine) – like head and body, husband and wife – set the scene for this theatre of God’s glory.  And centre stage is man – Adam made from the Adamah (the ground).  He is not spoken into being.  This man of dust (Gen 2:7) is made of the very stuff of the earth – drawn up, pinched off like clay and breathed into.  The earth-man is strongly united to the earth over which he is placed as head.

Adam means

a) that particular bloke;

b) ‘a man’ (a true human being) and

c) ‘humanity’ (as a whole).

This central actor – man – is king.  He is God’s ruler, through whom He exercises dominion.  From the outset God’s rule is a mediated rule – through man.

Now when man is disobedient you may have thought that God would renege on His determination to rule through man.  But no.  He takes this mediation through man very seriously.  It is because of the cosmic kingship of man that man’s fall entails the fall of all creation.  The ground (adamah) is cursed because of man (adam).  Man remains king.  But while man is perverse, so is his world.

But all of this looks towards the Man of Heaven (1 Cor 15:47-49).  Flesh and blood could never inherit the kingdom of God.  Men of dust were never the intention.  The intention was always the union of heavenly Man and earthly man.  The intention was always for the Logos to take this flesh and as Man to rule as God’s true king.  This rule was not to be a divine rule over and against man.  It was to be a heavenly rule in and through man.

And so came the eschatological Adam (1 Cor 15:45).  He is

a) that particular bloke, Jesus;

b) ‘a man’ (a true human being) and

c) ‘humanity’ (an eschatological humanity to answer Adam’s)

He sums up the man of dust, his being and life.  He takes His very flesh and retraces the steps of his disobedience, hammering out instead a being and life of perfect faithfulness.  Then, exalted as the pinnacle of all creation, this eschatological Adam is lifted up between heaven and earth – absorbing the curse of both and reconciling one to the other.  As Priest He ministers by the Spirit, offering to God the true worship of earth (Heb 9:14).  As Lamb He receives the curse of God on behalf of man (Gal 3:13).  As King, He reigns from the tree, manifesting God’s righteous rule to the ends of the earth.

Ascending as Priest, Lamb and King to the Father’s right hand, Jesus has lead captives in His train and sat down as Head over all things for the church.  The True Man, our Brother, sits in heaven as ruler of earth, not over against earth.  Rather, having taken Adam (and in him, adamah!) to Himself, He rules as and for man for all eternity.  When the heavenly Husband (masculine) moves house with His Father to earth (feminine) there will be the Marriage to end all marriages.  The manifested union of Bridegroom and bride will be at the same time the manifested union of heaven and earth.  Christ and creation will be consummated that day.

As Alpha, Christ has crafted a creation and granted it a gracious otherness.

As Omega, He has entered in and drawn back that creation to a gracious oneness.


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The verse the early post-apostolic church probably turned to most to guide their understanding was Hebrews 2:14, ‘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’. In other words, the incarnation was, quite specifically, about the Son of God taking to himself the flesh he had created for Adam so that he could heal it of all that had been inflicted on it at the Fall. In Christ, real flesh and blood would be taken through death into the hope of bodily resurrection…

…The who of the incarnation is perhaps the most extraordinary thing of all. That is, this baby is Immanuel, God with us. He is not just some divine ambassador. He is God: God in the flesh. But if so, what an unexpected God! He does things that God really ought not do. We all know perfectly well that God belongs on a throne, not in an animal’s feeding trough. But he seems not to be aware of such protocols…

…when we see the incarnate Christ we see a very specific person. We do not see a system of thought or a religious principle, but a man – a man who personally is God, salvation, truth and life. And that entirely alters the very shape of Christianity: conversion here cannot then at root be about exchanging one set of beliefs, practices or perspectives for another, but abandoning other loves for love of this person.

Read the whole of this excellent short article here.


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