Confession time. For the first few years of my pastoral ministry I did not enjoy preaching during Advent. I have always liked to preach through a book in the Bible and felt as if Advent interrupted the book I was working through with my congregation. Plus, to have to preach four weeks AND Christmas Eve on concepts all relating to the preparation for and birth of Jesus was challenging to keep fresh and new, year after year. I knew it was powerful that God became flesh in Jesus, but in my evangelical mindset, the power of the incarnation was primarily utilitarian because it was necessary for the ultimate substitutionary atonement of our sins.
Later, however, I began to reflect more on the power of the incarnation itself. God took a posture through Christ that allowed Him to engage deeply with His lost and broken people. I was listening to one of the most influential pastors in my life, Darrell Johnson, preach on Philippians 2:5-7 which says, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, 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.” (NRSV)
Darrell made the point that the word “though” is actually better translated as “because.” Because Jesus is God, He didn’t regard his equality with God as something to be exploited. It was in Jesus’ very nature to empty Himself for the people He wanted to redeem. The incarnation is so powerful it changes our lives and hearts at our very core. We have a God who knows us, because in ultimate humility, “taking the form of a slave,” He became one of us.
This incarnational posture was not only Jesus’ approach, but should be our approach as well as we engage our culture. Presbyterians have historically held one of the most influential places in American society. Think of how many of America’s founders and influential leaders have been Presbyterian. The American governmental system is even most like a Presbyterian system of government (You are welcome for that, America!).
But we have now moved into not only a post-Christian culture, but also an increasingly anti-Christian culture. Therefore, our ability to make a difference in culture isn’t going to come from our prominence and status within society, as it may have in the past. Our ability to impact society is going to come from taking the incarnational posture that Jesus took as he entered our world.
I pray that in this Advent season the power of the Incarnation would be revealed anew and afresh in our congregations, in the lives of our covenant partners, and in the lives of those who walk into our churches every week. I also pray that our communities would realize the power of the Incarnation as our people walk out of our churches and shine the light of Christ into the darkness.
May God bless you this Christmas season, and give you enthusiasm and passion to share the wonder and joy of His birth with everyone you encounter. Thank you for being the hands and feet of Jesus both in our ECO churches and outside of our churches. I am truly grateful to be in ministry with each of you.