What The Incarnation Means for Our Bodies
The angel was clear, to Mary, about the mission of Jesus. In his angelic announcement, he said that Jesus would come to “save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).” To be our Savior, God had to become human. He had to suffer as a human. He had to take on the full punishment of God’s wrath for human sin. This was God’s plan all along, an event that took place at “just the right time” (Galatians 4:4-7). The prophet said that it would “please the Lord to bruise him (Isaiah 53:10).”
Jesus accomplished what no man could accomplish. He, as the Second Adam, restores our humanity and reconciles us to Christ:
As Charles Wesley so beautifully writes:
Born that man no more may die.
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in Thy love.
Christmas is the celebration that Jesus came to this earth to offer salvation for our sins, reconciliation with our Creator. It is the dawn of God’s kingdom in Christ, saving not only the sins of his people but defeating sin, death and the grave and renewing and restoring creation.
But the Bible also tells us that in coming as a human, Jesus experienced the full range of humanity (Hebrews 4:15). This is not something we often consider when we think about Christmas. We (rightly) dwell on our individual salvation and on the cosmic salvation. We forget, though, that in coming as a baby–helpless and vulnerable–Jesus honors the dignity of what it means to be human.
Consider how often messy and gross it often is to be human. I think how messy our minivan is after a long trip with our kids. I think how often we have to clean our bathrooms at home. I think of the times our kids get violently sick. Jesus came and took on this kind of humanity.
Most of the time we see each other at our best. We clean up and dress up for work or church or social events. Only the closest of friends see each other at the most vulnerable moments and only family members see each other at our messiest. Jesus came to be human, not at our best, but at our worst.
Jesus coming, as a human, means Jesus cares for our bodies, not just our souls. It means we are not simply embodied spirits. We were crafted, body and soul, by a loving Creator. He calls humanity “good.”
Of course, in a fallen world, our bodies decay. We face aging and disease and deformity. But Jesus’ coming as a human and his death as a human and his resurrection as a human means the corruption that afflicts our bodies has been defeated and we will rise, one day, with new bodies in the resurrection (John 11:25; 2 Corinthians 5:1-10).
This reality, that Jesus loves us in all of our often gross and messy humanity, should both encourage us and also help us to love others. We are encouraged because it means God loves us, not only when we are at our shiny best, but also when we are at our messy worst. Most of us feel, at times, a bit ashamed of our bodies. We dress them up in all sorts of ways, but when we are alone with ourselves, there is often shame about being too fat or too skinny or too short or too small or a lack of athleticism or acne or whatever it might be that brings shame. The incarnation of Jesus Christ speaks to that shame with a God who came in human flesh and who says our bodies are good. Jesus’ very human birth also changes the way we love those around us. To fully appreciate their humanity, we should love all of them. True love is to love people as whole persons.
Jesus’ very human birth might also change the way we view marriage. To join yourself in love to another is to take all of your spouse, not just some of your spouse. We covenant in marriage to the whole person. It means we love our spouses when they are funny and contribute life to us and we love our spouses when they are cranky and make us miserable. It means we love them throughout the various seasons of life. And it means they love us when we are less than lovable.
Jesus’ humanity–his coming as a baby and his living as real, honest human with sweat and blood and body fluids and scars and fatigue–rescues us from the incomplete ways we often think about our salvation, as if the gospel story is simply about us parachuting out of our humanity into a ghost-like existence on clouds with angels. The gospel story is more than that. It is God visiting us in our humanity, rescuing us from the curse, and ultimately resurrecting us into more real, more perfect bodies and souls fit for that city to come.
Veil’d in flesh, the Godhead see;
Hail, the incarnate Deity:
Pleased, as man, with men to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel!