Important Origins (Part 2 in the series, How God changes our neighborhood)
In the first part of this series I set up this idea that the key theological concept of Christmas, the Incarnation, can be boiled down into a simple idea: when our world was broken beyond repair, God moved into the neighborhood. He did this with the intention of transforming this world back into the place He designed it to be in the beginning.
But think about that idea for a minute. God moved into the neighborhood. A minute’s worth of thought shows that to be an absolutely outlandish concept. It’s like saying Warren Buffet moved into a garbage slum neighborhood in Brazil, except that’s really not extreme enough a comparison. What could possibly possess the Creator of the Universe to take up residence in a tiny corner of the vast place He created? How could the God who is perfect in justice and unapproachable in holiness move into a place so broken by sin and wracked by injustice that there isn’t a clean corner anywhere? By what logic did the one being in all creation whose limits are only those of His own character take on the trappings of a particular creature who is perhaps the most limited of all the creatures in this world?
The quick and easy answer is found in one of the most famous verses in all of Scripture. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son…” But at Christmas, the time of year when we specifically celebrate this giving, we tend to start thinking about Jesus at His birth and don’t give much thought to what came before. Yet, when someone goes following the call and desire of God to reach the Gospel into a broken neighborhood, they don’t start to exist then. They may very well step down out of comparative glory to take on the brokenness and transform it from the inside out. Understanding this makes the gift all the grander. Well, when we understand what God the Son gave up in order to take on human flesh, the whole notion of the incarnation becomes all the more incredible. Christ didn’t merely come for us. The glorious, pre-incarnate second member of the triune Godhead stepped down out of the full trappings of limitless glory and moved into our neighborhood in order to transform it. This idea is perhaps best communicated in the opening lines of Paul’s letter to believers in the ancient city of Colossae.
“He is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell…”
Remember: Paul’s not describing God the Father here. He’s describing God the Son. This is a picture of the baby born to a poor couple and placed in a feed trough just before He became a microscopic collection of cells called a zygote. When in his letter to the church in Philippi Paul declares that Jesus was in the very form, God, this is what he was talking about. Jesus is God, incarnate. God in human flesh. God walking around among us yet as one who fully was us. When God moved into the neighborhood, He didn’t step down out of merely comparative glory, but out of glory itself. The one who created everything became one of those weakest among his creations.
But why? Why would he do that? Why would Warren Buffet move into a trash heap? Paul doesn’t leave us hanging. Read just a bit more of the text.
“And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard…”
So why did God move into the neighborhood? He did it in order to transform the neighbors—us. God the Son leveraged His glory not for His own sake, but for ours. He made His glory a tool which He could use to transform us fully into the men and women we were created to be. Christ used His glory for us.
That, friends, is the hope, the miracle, the awesome news of the incarnation. That’s why Christmas is such a big deal. God…moved…into…the neighborhood. The Creator became His creation in order to transform it back into the splendor He originally designed it to bear. Christ used His glory for us. In this season, we remember this and celebrate it. We remember it with utter awe and wonder because again, Christ stepped down out of glory in order to live among us as one who was fully one of us. The one who was limitless took on limits. The one who knew no need became needy. The one who needed no home became homeless. The one who had all the power became utterly powerless, unable to meet even His most basic needs without help. The one who was worshiped properly as Lord every second of the day became one who was spit on and ridiculed, condemned and killed. All of this so that we might be made whole. Christ used His glory for us. The only proper response to this, then, is to use our comparative glory for others. This is the demonstration that we have received the transformation. Christ used His glory for us. This Christmas season find a way to use yours to transform someone else.