We preachers tend to ask our people the same question every year as the calendar rolls around to December: What is Christmas really about?
And it’s a good question. Underneath all of the cozy wonderfulness of this season lives a profound mystery: God entering the brokenness of his world—and bringing salvation and hope for all of those who believe.
We can’t tell this good news enough. However, there is more to this good news. Jesus not only offers us spiritual salvation but in his incarnation, he brings good news for our physical bodies.
Veiled in Flesh
Genesis tells us that humans were created with special care, sculpted by God from the dust of the ground and stamped, unlike any other creature, with the image of God. We were created, not simply as embodied spirits, but as whole people, body and soul. And we were subject, because of sin, to the debilitating and decaying effects of the Fall.
The Messiah had to come as we are—a human being—to suffer the just punishment for the sins of his people. His mission, as the angel declared, was to “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). But this becoming human colors what Genesis has already told us about humankind. That the Son took on flesh signals that our bodies matter to God and have a prominent place within his redemption plan.
Born That Man No More Shall Die
Jesus was born into a world where life was cheap and death was common. Baby boys in Bethlehem were disposable to a king who wanted to maintain his hold on power. Disease was commonplace. Brutal military conquests by the Romans meant that many people in forgotten places died early. And yet this baby was the sign that the end of all death is coming. His arrival secured the promise that eventually human bodies, subject to decay and breakdown, would be restored to their original purpose—to flourish.
Jesus coming in the flesh was not an accident of history or an incidental footnote to the gospel story. God did not send his Son only to reunite our souls to God, but to rescue and renew our bodies too. This is why Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 spends so much time talking about the way in which Jesus’s resurrection means we too will rise again. Death, he says, is the last enemy and it has been defeated. As the hymn writer Charles Wesley puts it, Jesus was “Born that man no more may die.” God, in Jesus, wants to rescue our bodies.
Far As the Curse is Found
This good news is why Jesus’s earthly life both communicated the spiritual aspects of the gospel and demonstrated the way in which his kingdom would mean the end of suffering and pain, death, and disease. It is why Jesus could both deeply anguish at the death of his friend Lazarus and yet offer the words of hope to Martha. “I am the resurrection and the life,” he said. “He who believes in me, though he may die, yet shall live” (John 11: 25).
But most days it’s too easy to feel like Martha. To say to Jesus that he was too late, if he had only come earlier than the person we loved would still be alive. It’s hard to see past the bodies of those around us ravaged by the fall.
My wife suffers continually from a variety of health challenges. My uncle was killed this year in a road accident. I am facing the prospect of aging parents. Sometimes all I see is one side of the story: the hurt, the pain, and the sin that pollutes God’s creation. But then Christmas interrupts. It reminds me that while we live in a fallen Genesis 3 world, there is another world to come. That he is making all things new.
Jesus coming in the flesh, as a frail, vulnerable, poor baby is such good news. It means that the gospel is not just a spiritual, feel-good story. It’s not some nebulous-sounding “faith” that inspires a Hallmark movie. Christmas means that Jesus is not only saving us from our sins, but has, by his life and death, defeated the death and decay that mar my wife, my uncle, my parents, me, and all of us. Jesus came as a human because Jesus loves humans. And he doesn’t just rescue souls. He rescues bodies. He rescues planets. And one day we will see that he was born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth.
Cover image by Ben White