Reflections on the Incarnation by Bruce Yocum
“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.”Matthew 1:18-25
1st reflection: Like us in every respect
The Incarnation is the absolutely crucial and completely unexpected intervention of God in the life of this world, and each of our lives. That God, the creator of all things, should become a creature, is inconceivable for us. Yet as we see in this little story, that is exactly what happened. Mary conceived. A real, human, physical baby was conceived in her womb and born. But that baby was also God.
The Incarnation. We are familiar with that term, but we have to reflect often, and ever more deeply, what it means. God became a human being. God clothed himself in the very same flesh we each received in the womb of our mother, with all the weaknesses common to human beings. He hungered and thirsted. He suffered pain. He was even tempted!
God became like us to save us
The Letter to the Hebrews tells us that:
“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”Hebrews 2:14-18
Made like us in every respect
Take some time simply to sit before God in wonder at the love, mercy and humility of our God.
2nd reflection: God’s profound compassion
In Isaiah, it says,
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”Isaiah 7:14
Hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, his birth from a virgin mother had been prophesied, as the gospel of Matthew tells us.
“Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).”Matthew 1:20-23
But this had been spoken of long before even Isaiah. Immediately after Adam and Eve disobeyed God and brought punishment upon themselves, God spoke to them and promised that He would redeem them through one of their own descendants. God addressed the serpent saying,
“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”Genesis 3:15
From the early Christians on, at least since Justin Martyr (~100 – 160 AD) and Irenaeus (~130 – 180 AD), this verse was considered to be the first announcement of the Gospel [Good News]. This was a promise that God would send a descendant of Adam and Eve, a “Son of Man” as Jesus called himself in the Gospels, to overcome the harm that Satan had wrought through the sin of our first parents.
God’s compassion was so profound that even in the moment of their disobedience, God announced the Incarnation.
3rd reflection: God has spoken to us by His own Son
The author of the letter to the Hebrews writes,
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.”Hebrews 1:1-2
The Letter to the Hebrews tells us that, though the prophets authentically brought us the word of the Lord, now, in these last days, our days, God has spoken by His own Son. He was the one John described, as we have earlier read, as himself being the Word of God. (John 1:1)
Through the prophets God spoke to us, but through intermediaries. Although they genuinely brought God’s word, even they did not fully understand what they spoke.
“Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.”1 Peter 1:10-12
The prophets had a limited revelation of God and His plan. Christ brought the fullness of revelation. To this Word, nothing could be added. The apostles, in obedience to Christ, wrote down for us the revelation that came through Him. In the New Testament we encounter this Word. That is why the Letter to the Hebrews can say,
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”Hebrews 4:12
Of course it is living and active! In the Scripture we encounter the Person of the Word, not the Word itself, but the Word Himself. Reading the Scripture is an encounter with Jesus Christ.
4th reflection: Christ became poor to make us rich in glory and honor
In the second letter to the Corinthians, it says,
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”2 Corinthians 8:9
The Apostle Paul here tells us in different words the same truth that he spoke of in Philippians, chapter two, that Christ gave up the glory, the honor, the richness that he has as God, so that we might inherit that glory, honor and richness.
The Eastern church speaks of this as “divinization,” that as God in Christ shared our life, now through his humility, his suffering even to death on a cross, we can share in his divine life.
This truth could fuel our meditations for the rest of our life. For our sake, God became our servant. For our sake, God became poor. He did this so that we might share in His very nature, that we might live forever with Him.
Let us take time, especially in this Advent and Christmas season, to worship God, to thank Him and to glorify Him for His great love for us that is revealed in the Incarnation.
Top image credit: Ilustration of Christ’s birth, etching by Rembrandt, entitled, The Adoration of the Shepherds: With the Lamp, dated 1654, source The Brooklyn Museum. Image in the Public Domain.
Bruce Yocum (1948 – 2022) was involved in leadership and teaching for many years in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal and the Covenant Communities Movement which began in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and in the Sword of the Spirit. He travelled widely throughout the Sword of the Spirit communities to equip and train community leaders in North America, Europe and the Middle East, Latin America and the South Pacific. Bruce Yocum was a life-long member of the Servants of the Word, an international ecumenical brotherhood of men living single for the Lord. He served as Presiding Elder of the Servants of the Word for thirteen years (1989-2003).