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INCARNATION: WHEN GOD BECAME LITTLE…

25 December 2013 03:57 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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By Tanya Ferdinandusz

Playing word associations with the word “God” usually throws out responses such as power, majesty, glory, love… stressing the bigness, the greatness, the power, the majesty of God.  And it’s true – God is great!  Yet, notwithstanding angelic appearances, heavenly hosts and supernatural stars, the birth of Jesus highlights the littleness of God.  The Christmas story is the amazing account of how God became LITTLE and LIMITED.




GOD BECAME LITTLE
“And the Word became flesh and lived among us…”  (John 1:14)

Imagine that you are whizzing back in time across the centuries to Bethlehem… You stand with the shepherds before the manger… the straw tickles your feet, lambs bleat, and perhaps you wrinkle your nose at the animal smells… You see a tiny baby, all red and wrinkled; perhaps he is sleeping, but more probably he is screaming; his tiny hands and legs can’t do much except flap aimlessly about…

At Christmas time, we sing ‘O COME DIVINE MESSIAH’ – but this song also reminds us that this divine Messiah came in meekness, his majesty “veiled in human weakness…”

A new-born baby is incredibly tiny, completely helplessly, utterly dependent.  Imagine the all-powerful God, Creator of heaven and earth, restricted within the walls of a woman’s womb, shrunk to the size of a single fertilized egg which would slowly begin to multiply…  Think of the God who breathed life into all living creatures, and then imagine baby Jesus struggling to use never-before used lungs, unable to speak, to solid food or control his bladder, totally dependent on a young teenage girl for shelter, food, warmth, and love…

Marketers speak of people being upwardly mobile—striving to move from a lower to a higher social or economic status.  But at Christmas, our God became downwardly mobile.




GOD BECAME LIMITED
In one of Enid Blyton’s fairy tales, she writes of a pixie who tricked a powerful wizard… First, he challenged the wizard to do all kinds of amazing tricks: Make yourself as tall as this room; Build a magnificent castle; Create gold coins out of nothing; Make yourself invisible… and the wizard did all these amazing things.  Finally, the pixie says ‘But can you make yourself small enough to get inside this medicine bottle?’ and when the wizard does so, the pixie closes the bottle and traps the wizard inside!
By choosing to become small, weak, and helpless, God put himself into our hands, placed himself in our power, to do as we pleased with him.  While God wasn’t tricked by us, he allowed himself to be trapped within the limitations of human flesh.  St. Paul, writing to the Christians at Philippi, says that although Jesus was God:
“he did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness…”

By deliberately choosing to limit himself, by laying aside his divine powers, Jesus became vulnerable to all the pain and problems of human life.  And he played by the rules—refusing to use his powers to satisfy his hunger (as when Satan tempted him), ease his tiredness or teleport himself instantly from Nazareth to Jerusalem.  Jesus exercised his divine powers only as the Father directed him, to help someone in need (e.g. curing the sick) or as a sign of God’s kingdom (e.g. stilling of the storm).  Jesus performed many miracles, but surely the greatest was the ‘miracle of divine restraint’—that the all-powerful God would choose not to exercise his divine powers.




WHY DID GOD CHOOSE TO BECOME LITTLE & LIMITED?
Two reasons: FEAR and FREEDOM.
FEAR
The author Philip Yancey offers an illustration.  He explains that he keeps fish and takes a great deal of trouble over them.  But these fish, he says, show me only one emotion: fear.  Whenever I get close to the tank, even as my shadow looms over it, they dart away.  They are afraid even of the hand that faithfully feeds them.  Probably the only way he could change their perceptions would be to become a fish and communicate at a ‘fishy’ level!

The Bible gives a similar story.  After leading his people out of slavery in Egypt, after countless amazing miracles including parting the Red Sea, after providing them with food and water in the desert and protecting them from enemies, God manifests himself in the midst of a smoking mountain, with thunder and lightning and trumpet sounds.  The people respond with one emotion: FEAR.  They plead with Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.” (Exodus 20:18).

The greatness of God served to highlight the huge chasm between a holy God and a sinful people… and the people responded with fear.  

So in the incarnation, God adopted a different approach—an approach which sought to span the distance that separated humanity from God.  By becoming human, Jesus not only crossed over to our side, but became the means by which we could cross over to God’s side.  

In the Christmas story, the angel gives the same message to Mary, to Joseph, to the Shepherds: Do not be afraid…  God’s perfect love drives out fear.  Christmas makes God approachable, reminding us that we, too, do not have to be afraid.  




FREEDOM
Free-will is one of the marks of being human; despite Adam and Eve’s sin, God did not withdraw the gift of free-will; and by coming among us as little and limited, God ensured that human freedom was not tampered with.

If Jesus had operated in ‘full power’ mode, he could have over-powered people, compelling their instant and unquestioning obedience; he could easily have overwhelmed them, dazzling them into following him.  But God loves us enough to respect our freedom to choose, even when this freedom includes the freedom to say “no” to him, to reject him, even to crucify him.  

God offers us the dignity of an informed choice.  Hence Jesus repeatedly warned about the cost of commitment: ”Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.”   That’s the most non-manipulative invitation we can imagine—quite unlike modern-day advertising!  

God does not want us to choose him out of fear, but freely, out of love.




BUT CHOICES HAVE CONSEQUENCES
While God leaves us free to choose, our choices do have consequences.  For Adam and Eve, choosing to disobey God’s word resulted in forfeiting the blessings of God’s presence.

Advent means arrival.  During Advent, we look back to Jesus’ arrival that first Christmas, but also look forward—to his arrival in glory.  When Jesus comes a second time, it will not be as a helpless baby, but as the King of kings.  When Jesus came the first time, people had a choice—to accept him or reject him; this same choice confront each of us today.  But when Jesus comes the second time, the time for choosing is over; at that time, the choices we have made on earth will be confirmed in eternity: those who have freely chosen Jesus, when he came in little-ness and limited-ness, will enjoy his presence forever; those who reject him on earth—either because they have mistaken his meekness for weakness or for some other reason—will also be confirmed in their choice…

The season of Christmas is yet another opportunity to evaluate or re-evaluate our choices:
  • Have I chosen to welcome Jesus as Saviour and Lord of my life?
  • On an on-going basis, am I making choices that are pleasing to Jesus?
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