12/23: Advent- Incarnation
18 The birth of Jesus Christ came about this way: After His mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, it was discovered before they came together that she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit. 19 So her husband Joseph, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her publicly, decided to divorce her secretly. 20 But after he had considered these things, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is by the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.” 22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name Him Immanuel, which is translated “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph got up from sleeping, he did as the Lord’s angel had commanded him. He married her 25 but did not know her intimately until she gave birth to a son. And he named Him Jesus.
These past few weeks we have been concerning ourselves with Advent. And we looked at various aspects of this season starting with preparation. We looked at Matthew 24, at how Jesus is in fact coming again and that He has called us to be ready. That we do not live in ignorance with this knowledge. And we took a cursory look, we just flew over the 5 parables that Jesus provides in reinforcing this point of preparation. We prepare our hearts and minds and lives for His return so that we are not caught off guard. So that we are not found to be living in, what Stuart Weber calls, “apathetic self-deception and negligence”. No, no, no. We have prepared ourselves. Having turned from sin we care for our neighbors in an overflowing love for God, working so that we will be found not wanting.
We also looked at how we are to anticipate his coming. Examining the words and life of John the Baptist as he prepared the way for the coming one. He did not do this in vain. He expected him to come, the one who he was not even worthy to untie his sandal or in today’s day, the one who he was not even worthy to remove the crocs from. The Messiah! They had been waiting for 400 years, why would this lunatic in the desert believe that after all these years of silence the messiah really will come then and now. He anticipated it. It goes hand in hand with preparation. We prepare because we anticipate. Anticipate what? His second coming which will be bitter for many. Wide is the gate and broad is the path that leads to destruction. When Jesus comes again, there will be no second chance, it will be the time for the final judgment. And so, not only do we prepare and anticipate, we also proclaim the gospel.
Which led us to joy. We can be happy about a lot of things in this world and if we are not careful, these things will distract us. Especially during the holidays, many wonderful sights, smells, tastes, touches, and sounds all captivate us, but our true joy comes not in the gift, but the giver. We are reminded of so great a salvation and that his first coming was necessary in order for us to have salvation. And so we have joy knowing he was truly in the flesh. But we also have joy knowing that he will come again and we will shed the perishable and put on the imperishable. Which leads us to this morning’s focus, which is the incarnation.
What is the incarnation? You may know of some similar words to it, carnation. But no, that is a flower. Reincarnation- a concept of rebirth in many pantheistic religions. Nope, no connection or relation to this either.
To incarnate refers to taking on flesh. And the Incarnation of Jesus is the incomprehensible event when the Son, Jesus, the second person of the trinity, added to his divine nature, humanity. And this is incredibly important for every person in existence.
This is really good news. It is the best news that could possibly be given. You know I grew up playing sports. One of the most tense moments in my life were the tryouts. You would go through a week of training, hoping that one of the trainers saw your potential and skill. And I remember how I always was so nervous around the time when the squad would be announced. Did I make the cut? Did I not? It was great news if I made the team and even greater news if I was on the A squad.
Even greater news than that was when I was applying for college. I had put all my eggs in one basket. I wanted to go to WestPoint. And so, I only applied to WestPoint. Getting the acceptance letter was one of the greatest days in my life.
And there are several other moments in my life that I can think of when I received good news. Asking my beautiful wife to marry me and hearing “Yes”....such amazing news. But all of that pales in comparison to the news that Joseph receives from the angel.
This is not a baby angel that is naked and plucking on a harp. This was an enormous being. Frightful to see, that is why they always said “Fear Not”. And one appears to Joseph, and maybe not to scare him too much he appears in a dream. And he tells Joseph, God knows what is in your heart. Do not divorce your wife. She is carrying a son, and he will save his people from their sins!
That is truly good news. Nothing could be better! There is nothing that we could do to atone for our sins, we needed a Messiah. We needed a Savior. And in the incarnation we receive salvation.
And the incarnation is not some myth. Its is not a fairy tale. It is not a “Once upon a time” tale. The Incarnation is the real, physical, and purposeful coming of the Son of God.
It is a real, and specific event in history
It was a physical and bodily incarnation
It was purposeful in the redemption of God’s elect
1. It is a real
When we speak of the incarnation of Jesus, we are referring to a real and specific event in history. This is not a fairy tale. It is so odd to me when you think about Holidays in America and how some have some sort of mythical element to it, but others are considered historical. For example, think about the Fourth of July, we celebrate it as the day of the Independence of this great nation! Or how about Thanksgiving, wrapped yes in a bit of controversy for some, but commemorating when the Wampanoag Indians and the Plymouth colonists shared an Autumn harvest feast.
But when we get to Easter, is it about some fictional bunny that comes around hiding eggs? Or Christmas, is it about a fictional person named Santa. We can get mixed up sometimes with reality and fiction. Christmas reminds the world of the reality that God took on flesh. That Jesus, the Son of God, took on flesh. This is not a fairy tale.
The rest of Matthew is not a continuance of the dream of Joseph. It is not as though in verse 20. we find that Joseph goes to sleep and then for 28 chapters we are exploring the dream of Joseph. And perhaps, that may be the very reason why in verse 24 we read “When Joseph got up from sleeping”. This is a true event about real people and real places that truly did occur. They are not tales, but accounts of history.
2. It was a physical and bodily incarnation
The Docetists tried to teach that Jesus came as an aberration. Like some sort of ghostly figure that showed up and did wonderful things. That Jesus never took on flesh. That he was simply a spirit being that had the appearance of having flesh and being present with them bodily, but in actuality he was just a distant ancestor of Casper, Jesus the Friendly ghost.
Which goes directly against human testimony, church tradition, and, most importantly, the clear Word of God. You will recall when we discussed John’s Gospel, we spent some time on verse 14.
14 The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
The Word did not appear as though it had flesh, it actually took on flesh. Not to mention the numerous passages that Scripture speaks to about Jesus actually having flesh.
The Gospels report Jesus’ human needs including sleep (Luke 8:23), eating (Matthew 4:2; 21:18),and drinking. Other indications of His humanity are that He perspired (Luke 22:43-44) and bled (John 19:34) and he died and they were able to wrap his body in linen and prepare it with spices(Matt 27:57-60).
Going to verse 25, Mary did not give birth to a spirit…no lady does that. They give birth to babies! And the same is here. Mary gives birth to a son. A real physical baby boy.
Which leads us to a very important point about the incarnation.
3. It was purposeful in the redemption of God’s elect
What we read in Matthew’s Gospel is not just describing historical events. It is not just describing to us how Mary became conceived by the Spirit a son who would be called Immanuel, God with us. The incarnation was necessary in order for Jesus to fulfill his purpose of saving His people from their sins. Note that it is His people, not all people.
The angel is not a universalist. Not everyone is saved. Only His people. The ones who God the Father has given to Him, the ones who, as Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus, were chosen before the foundation of the world. Who were predestined to be adopted through Jesus Christ for Himself.
It had a purpose. If this were a dream and not an actual event in history, then the incarnation does not matter at all.
Additionally, if Jesus did not come in the flesh, then he could not have died on the cross and he would not have been able to shed His blood. Which the author of Hebrews reminds us was necessary for the Savior to shed His blood for the forgiveness of sins (Hebrews 9:22). A blood sacrifice, of course, requires a body of flesh and blood. And this was God’s plan for the Incarnation: “When Christ came into the world, he said: ‘Sacrifice and offering [under the Old Covenant] you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me’” (Hebrews 10:5). Without the Incarnation, Christ could not really die, and the cross is meaningless.
And so the incarnation is so good, because we know that God never fails. And so God’s ordained salvific plan from eternity to send His Son in the flesh, to die for our sins was accomplished, but started first in the incarnation. And in Advent, we remember this. We are reminded that our God never fails.
And that strikes us. It moves us with confidence knowing that when we repented from our sins and placed our faith and trust in the Son, we walk in the light. We are new creations, we are children of God, we have been sealed by the spirit, we are saved. And the advent season reminds of the advent which we are waiting and longing for. His second coming.
Which then convicts our hearts to preach the gospel. Because we know that there will be a day of judgment. And no matter how good we think we lived or how much we have given or saved, none of that will save a person on judgment day. None of that will save us from our sins. What can? Nothing. It is not a what, but a who. And the angel revealed that to Joseph in his dream. It is Jesus who will save His people form their sins.
And so we preach the Gospel, so that many will hear and repent and believe in the message of the Gospel that started with the Incarnation. We live lives ready for His return which may come at any moment. Living with prepared hearts and holiness. Living with the anticipation of his arrival. Living in Joy. Living in worship of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.