This coming Sunday, we will begin a brief three-part series on the incarnation. The incarnation, if you’re unfamiliar with the term, is the Christian doctrine that affirms the mystery that God became a man. This doctrine properly belongs to a theological category we refer to as Christology. So why are we doing this brief, heavily theological series? One simple reason is this: it’s Christmas season! This is a season of the year in which our “post-Christian” culture unanimously agrees to celebrate the most marvelous mystery at the heart of the Christian faith. Would you like some proof? Just try to count how many times you hear O Come, All Ye Faithful, or Hark! The Herald Angels Sing on the radio, or at the grocery store. As you casually glance through the refrigerated section of Walmart, looking for eggnog, what do you hear?
Yea, Lord, we greet Thee,
born this happy morning;
Jesus, to Thee be all glory giv’n;
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.
Then, as you get into your car and turn on the radio, sandwiched between Jingle Bell Rock and Santa Baby is a Pop artist singing,
Christ, by highest heav’n adored;
Christ, the everlasting Lord
Late in time behold Him come,
Offspring of the Virgin’s Womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail the incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus our Emmanual.
In light of all this, it would be a shame for us, as a church, to miss the opportunity to pause and reflect on this glorious truth. And by the way, to the Scrooges out there who protest our celebration of Christmas with “Don’t you know it started as a pagan holiday?!” I offer you this fitting response which I heard from another pastor: “It’s no problem that Christians celebrate a holiday that used to be a pagan holiday, we all used to be pagans.” But I digress.
The reality that God, without ceasing to be God, became a man, is what separates Christianity from every other theory of the world. Our faith doesn’t hinge on abstract philosophical axioms, it hinges on a cosmic event in which God invades history—in which the Creator adds creaturliness to his nature, without at all diminishing his Creator-ness.
There is a reason why this doctrine is always referred to as a great mystery. But it’s not the kind of mystery in which knowledge is hidden, and investigative skills are required to uncover a truth. Rather, it’s the kind of mystery in which knowledge is flashed in front of your face, and it’s so unbelievably glorious that you’re left awestruck and stammering, “How…? Why…?” It’s the kind of mystery that elicits wonder and worship, a kind in which you are invited to delve in deep in meditation and study. It’s like a mountain that taunts at you, “Go ahead, climb me. I dare you!” And that’s exactly what we’re doing in this brief series, we are climbing Everest! We want to try and strip away the familiarity of the Christmas season and grapple with the glories of the incarnation that still pervade this season. As a people who love the gospel, we must love the incarnation, for it is not an exaggeration to say that without the incarnation, there is no gospel.
This series will begin with a sermon on the folly and the scandal of the incarnation. We will focus on the marvelously counterintuitive nature of the incarnation; God condescends and becomes man. All of our songs this week will help us as meditate on the contrast between God’s glory, and man’s frailty, and the mystery of Jesus embodying both. But one song that will help us in this uniquely is Come and Stand Amazed. It’s an old Dutch hymn that was translated in 1987, and the version we’ll be singing is an arrangement Citizens and Saints recorded in 2013. The song masterfully displays the starkness of God’s condescension in the incarnation, with lyrics like, “See the Mighty, weak and tender / See the Word who now is mute / See the Sovereign without Splendor / See the Fullness destitute”
The link to the song is below, but here are the lyrics:
Come and stand amazed you people
See how God has reconciled
See his plans of love accomplished
See his gift, this newborn child
See the Mighty, weak and tender
See the Word who now is mute
See the Sovereign without splendor
See the Fullness destitute
See how humankind received him
See him wrapped in swaddling bands
Who as Lord of all creation
Rules the wind by his command
See him lying in manger
Without sign of reasoning
Word of God, to flesh surrendered
He is wisdom’s crown, our King
O Lord Jesus, God incarnate
Who assumed this humble form
Counsel me and let me wishes
To your perfect will conform
Light of life, dispel my darkness
Let your frailty strengthen me
Let your weakness give me boldness
Let your burden set me free
O Emmanuel my Savior
Let your death be life for me