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 came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. John 1:1-5, 9-13
Last week we looked at the Nativity from the perspective of Creation. You were given a marble to remind you of God’s wonderful creation – the Garden, Adam and Eve. We saw how the baby born in the manger so long ago reflected the earlier Adam, how the first Adam did so much damage, but how the second Adam brought grace and life.
Today we look at the incarnation – the pre-existing God stepped out of eternity and put on flesh, and was placed in the straw of a manger. Isn’t it funny how the eternal all-powerful nestles up to common straw, something that burns so quick in the fires of time. Straw is a byproduct, the dried stalks of cereal plants. The Bible uses straw as an illustration of the most base of foundations. Listen to 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 “According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” Straw is the bottom of the list, yet it is on this straw God incarnate is laid to rest.
Do we really understand the incarnation? What did Jesus leave? In Philippians we read how He left the glory of heaven, how He gave up temporarily some of His rights as deity, how He emptied Himself of so much. Listen to Isaiah 6:1-6 “In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.” And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.” Revelation 21:10-12 “And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her brilliance was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal-clear jasper. It had a great and high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels; and names were written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel.”
God left Heaven for you and me. Deity, God, removed Himself from the glory of the angels and the highest created things, Light and Life eternal, from the court of the Lord of Hosts – walked out the front door knowing the road ahead was long, and painful, full of disappointment; but ultimately, world changing.
The incarnation is not just about what Jesus left, but also about where He ended up. From eternity to time. From omnipresence to the frail body of a baby in a backwards town, in an occupied country. From omnipotence to hunger and tiredness, to the limits of human endurance. He went from omnipotence, all powerful, the creator of all things, to change water to wine, to multiply fish and bread, to calming the storm. From omniscience, all-knowing, to relying on the Scriptures and gifts of discernment. He left the vastness of heaven and the universe to dwell in a little, itty bitty living space. He didn’t even come in the 21st Century. He came to ride a donkey, where social media was a letter handwritten on the hide of an animal and manually copied and carried around the known world.
But location doesn’t tell us the whole story of the incarnation – for the incarnation is really about the people. It is about God tasking a young couple with the raising of the Messiah. It is about God calling a headstrong fisherman and making him a fisher of men. It is about God calling together a community of people who bow the knee to the rule of God, allowing Jesus to be the Leader, the head of the body. The incarnation is God’s plan to deal with all the garbage of life that will burn as straw. He left heaven and became flesh while we were sinners, rejecting Him, so that He could offer us grace.
The incarnation is the perfect example of grace, of God taking all the initiative to provide a way out of trial and tribulation. It doesn’t matter what we have done or when we did it. The thief and murderer dying on the cross beside Jesus stood beside Him in paradise. All of us who have blown it one way or another, big or small, is invited to not just experience grace one, to be saved and then to figure it on our own from there. No! God’s grace is where we stand today, even decades after first asking Him to be our Forgiver and Leader. So often, though, we grasp for, and hang on to the straw of life, the base things, the things that will burn in the end. Straw has little value in the schemes of life. Remember the story of the three pigs and the big, bad wolf – the first house they made was of straw.
When we talk about the incarnation we talk about the present God offers us. While we talk about eternal life as if it is something so far removed from us, as if it is something we can’t connect with until we breathe our last, Jesus talks about abundant life here on earth. Eternal life started when we asked Jesus to be our Leader. Eternal life is about the Spirit working within us producing fruit like peace, patience, and kindness. There is a joy of salvation that nothing can take away, and yet we cling to straw. We see the gold God offers, but because we love our straw, because we don’t know how to give it up, or are too ashamed because our pockets are full of it, we reject the valuable and stay with the worthless. When you walk through the malls at this time of year you will see many people pursuing straw – stuffing it into the God-shaped voids in their life, trying to stifle and mute the pain of life.
But it is that pain that Jesus came to experience in the incarnation. He came to bear the full weight of sin and betrayal and need – He experienced it all – so that He could deliver us all. That marble reminds you that you are made in the image of God, created for a purpose, and ultimately to be joined forever with Him in glory. The straw of the incarnation reminds us of the grace extended in the nativity, that you were not meant for straw, but for something worth much more, and eternal in nature. The straw is a reminder that God is near, Emmanuel, with us, dwelling among us.