A Forgotten Truth about Christmas

December 19, 2019

Advent and Christmas provide us with occasions to reflect on and appreciate the fact that “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14 NIV2011). As we do so, we often rightly highlight God’s plan to make atonement for our sin and thereby provide a means of redemption for us. However, in focusing on the atonement, we can sometimes miss a tremendously important truth about Christmas and the incarnation of the Son.

This forgotten truth is revealed quite clearly in the New Testament’s post-resurrection narratives. These passages show us that Jesus’s resurrection was physical, not merely spiritual and certainly not metaphorical. In John 20, Jesus shows His followers His wounded hands and side and even lets Thomas touch them (vv. 20, 27). In Luke 24:42–43, He eats a piece of fish, demonstrating that He has a real body.

When the time comes for Jesus to depart from the earth, He does not dematerialize or otherwise shed his body. Rather, He ascends to heaven, keeping His body intact (Luke 24:50–53; Acts 1:9). Fascinatingly, as the disciples watch the Lord ascend, two white-clad people tell them that Jesus will return to earth in the same manner in which He is leaving (Acts 1:10–11).

These biblical texts make clear that Jesus did not cease to be human after His act of atonement or even after His resurrection. He remained the glorious God-Human and ascended into heaven, where He continues to intercede for us (e.g., Rom 8:34). Acknowledging these truths, orthodox Christian theology has always maintained that the incarnation was not a temporary arrangement but is rather a permanent reality; Emmanuel, “God with us,” will forever share in our humanity.

It is worthwhile to pause here and reflect on how this point of doctrine shapes our understanding of Christmas. The Christmas story is not the story of the Word becoming flesh on a temporary basis to accomplish an important goal. Rather, it is the story of, among other things, the Word wedding Himself to humanity forever. Like the biblical accounts of Jesus’s death and resurrection, the Christmas narratives record a moment of profound and irreversible significance that demonstrates the unfathomable love of God.

Appreciating the permanence of the incarnation should move us to proclaim with Mary, “My soul glorifies the Lord, / and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46–47).

On behalf of the staff and faculty of Emmanuel Bible College, I wish you a safe and spiritually fulfilling Christmas.

David Doherty
Messaging & Communications Officer