Birth Of Jesus
Every superhero needs a good origin story. Bruce Wayne falls into a well full of bats and finds the inspiration for his vigilante quest for justice. Peter Parker gets bitten by a radioactive spider and discovers he can shoot webs and climb walls. Most superheroes, it seems, get their powers when they’re old enough to use them. But Superman? Superman comes to earth as a baby:
Seem a little familiar? A supremely powerful being comes to earth in the guise of a human, and is adopted by a human family. He devotes his life to combatting evil and fighting for the downtrodden. Oh, and his birth name, Kal-El, means “Voice of God” in Hebrew.
While Superman’s origin story is thrilling, it’s not nearly as mind-blowing as the one it mimics: the story of the Incarnation.
John introduces the Incarnation this way (John 1:1-5, 14 NKJV):
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
The word “incarnation” comes from the Latin verb “incarno,” and translates to “to make into flesh.” To take something entirely other and make it into something familiar. Something human. Something made of flesh, that can sweat and bleed and die.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
In the next couple of weeks, we’re going to look at the birth of Jesus, as the incarnation is more commonly known, in detail. You can find the account in Luke 1-2 and Matthew 2:1-12. Today, though, I just want to take a step back and take a moment to think about what happened here. God – existing out of time and space, powerful and knowledgeable beyond all comprehension, becomes a baby.
Have you spent much time around a baby recently? One of my classmates brought his 2-month old daughter into the office the other day, and I got to hold her. She weighed around 12 pounds, and she couldn’t even support her own head yet. As she wriggled back and forth in my arms, I was painfully aware of how vulnerable she was. I was a little relieved when he took her back to change her, and immediately texted my best friend about how glad I was I didn’t have that kind of responsibility yet.
The Incarnation is the story of how the Lord of the Universe ends up drinking at the breast of a teenage girl. It’s the story of how the maker of heaven and earth comes gasping and screaming into a dark, unsanitary stable, red and wrinkled and covered in viscera. The Incarnation tells how humanity’s only hope for salvation becomes so tiny, so helpless, that he can’t even control his own bladder. “Glory to God in the highest,” the angels sang. Where is the glory in that?
“The incarnation," Friedrich Buechner writes, “is a kind of vast joke whereby the Creator of the ends of the earth comes among us in diapers…Until we too have taken the idea of the God-man seriously enough to be scandalized by it, we have not take it as seriously as it demands to be taken.”
Not only did God become a man – he became a man who would do some pretty superhero-like things. He fed more than 5,000 people with one kid’s sack lunch. He walked on water. He rose from the dead. And while he was doing all of those miracles, he fulfilled an estimated 353 different Old Testament prophecies.
Of those 353 prophecies, there are sixty prophecies that scholars say are especially significant. In the book Science Speaks, Peter W. Stoner and Robert C. Newman outline the probability that one person could fulfill only eight of the sixty major prophecies about the life of Christ. These include things that someone could be in slight more in control of – like dying by crucifixion – and things that no one could control, like where they’re born. According to their calculations, the probability that Jesus could successfully fulfill just eight of those prophecies is 10^17, or 1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000.
To put that in perspective, the odds of winning the jackpot in the lottery and dying from getting struck by lightning are lower than 10^17.
So, on a purely mathematical level, the Incarnation is mind-boggling. On a personal level, it’s incredible – God becomes a human baby. But it still leads us with a very difficult question: Why?
Augustine of Hippo wrote “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.” Is this a sufficient explanation for you?
Why couldn’t an angel have come in Jesus’ place, if the angels had never sinned?
John doesn’t include a narrative of Jesus’ birth like Matthew and Luke did; instead he writes a poetic, symbolic prologue. How do you think the two versions of the story inform each other? What does John 1 tell you about Jesus and the significance of his birth?