Today, marks the first Sunday of Advent. But what does that mean? The word “Advent” is derived from the Latin word, Adventus, which means “the approach” or “the arrival.” For Christians, of course, Advent is the time in which we anticipate the celebration of Jesus’ birth. What we celebrate is the singular event of God, who is divine and exists outside of creation, coming into creation, unto the earth, in human form, to become a being who subject to elements common to each and every one of us. We celebrate that the Son of God came to earth as the Son of Man, as the Gospel writer John said He became “flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). I wonder at times whether we have heard those words, or words like them, so often that we no longer take in the fullness of those words.
God has always existed and was never subject to conditions and dimensions of His own creation. With Advent, we begin our celebration of God’s decision to enter His own creation as one of us, as a human. This God-human being would retain an inner essence of God, never losing His divine nature, but He would at the same time take on the outer fragility of human life, being subject to hunger and thirst, cold and heat, physical comfort as well as pain and death itself. In many ways, the idea of the Son of God and Son of Man breaks the back of words. I think Isaiah came closest to describing who this person would be when he wrote,”6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). We would come to know this Son of God and Son of Man as Jesus of Nazareth. Today, I would like to focus on the significance of the humanity of Jesus, the Son of Man.
What might we say about the humanity of Jesus? We can say that in Jesus’ day, people had little difficulty accepting the humanity of Jesus. Jesus was born in Bethlehem. People were there to see that birth. Jesus had a woman who was called his mother and a man who was called his father. Jesus physically grew up in his hometown of Nazareth. Jesus was known as a young boy able to hold deep conversations with scholars and teachers about the Scriptures in the Temple of Jerusalem. Jesus ate food and drank wine. Jesus slept. Jesus wept. Jesus bled. Jesus died. It was easy for people who saw Jesus to believe that Jesus was a man. What was more difficult in Jesus’ time was for people who saw Jesus was to believe that Jesus was divine, that Jesus was Son of God. In fact, it was so hard for some people to believe Jesus was the Son of God that they killed him to prove to themselves that Jesus was just a man.
After Jesus’ death and resurrection, people of the early church began to believe that Jesus not a man after all, but Jesus was only God. He appeared in be human form but was not himself human at all. Others though that Jesus was only God, and that Mary was a surrogate, contributing nothing but giving birth to God. Others said Jesus was God and man, but Mary must also have been born supernaturally and remained sinless, otherwise Jesus would have acquired Mary’s sin at his own birth from a naturally conceived mother. There are, it seems, a near endless variation of stories and theories about whose birth we are celebrating.
We Baptist have our own take on Advent and the birth of Jesus. Our approach is quite simple. Our approach is to ask, “What does the Bible say?” and then say, “I will choose to believe what the Bible says.” What would we then read?
- “14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). A virgin will conceive, become impregnated like all other women but in a supernatural manner. Her child will be a boy.
- “6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). The boy will be seen as God.
- An angel said to the virgin, 35, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). The boy born to a virgin will be the Son of God and the Son of Man.
Baptists are simple folk. We accept what the Bible says. This boy will be both the Son of God and the Son of Man. He will be born of a human mother who was made pregnant by the work of the Holy Spirit. Now, isn’t that much easier to accept what God says?
But why does it matter that this boy, Jesus, was the Son of Man? Again, we return to the Bible. In the New Testament letter we call Hebrews, the writer says, “5 It is not to angels that he [God] has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. 6 But there is a place [Old Testament – Psalm 8:4-6] where someone has testified: ‘What is mankind [humans] that you [God] are mindful of them, a son of man [those born human] that you [God] care for him? 7 You [God] made them a little lower than the angels [human]; you [God] crowned them with glory and honor 8 and put everything under their feet.” In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them [humans]. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them. 9 But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while [divine made human], now crowned with glory and honor because he [Jesus] suffered death, so that by the grace of God he [Jesus] might taste death for everyone” (Hebrews 2:5-9).
Now that is a lot in just a few verses, but we as Baptists are happy to receive a lot if what we are receiving comes from God’s Word. To receive a lot from the Bible is not a burden, not like it is when in school we receive a lot from a teacher. Instead, to receive a lot from the Bible is a joy. What did we receive? There are four things we should bear in mind.
First, humanity was created by a caring God. That means our life begins with joy in knowing God cares. Humans were crowned with glory and honor and we were given dominion over the earth. We are not here by accident or because we evolved from some troop of apes through a process of nature. We are the crowning achievement created by God.
Second, God caused Jesus to come into the world, and for a time caused Jesus to join humanity before Jesus returned to His place of glory and honor in heaven.
Third, and this is an important point. Third, God caused Jesus to come into the world, to become human, so that God in human form, could suffer and experience death. Death is not experienced in heaven. It is only experienced on earth. Jesus came to experience the harsh reality of death as a human. That’s heavy stuff and we will talk more about that in a minute.
Finally, the fourth thing we accept from Scripture, and we understand that our celebration of Advent brings to us, is that Jesus, the Son of God, was made lower than the angels for a little while, made the Son of Man, so that Jesus could suffer a human death, and in doing so, became the way for us to receive God’s redeeming grace. Jesus’ death brought us grace. We will talk more about that as well.
Four things that we must consider from the Bible alone. We are created and loved by God. Jesus was born human. Jesus died a human death. Jesus came into his glory again and is now the way of redemption by and through God’s grace. There is a lot to the Christmas story.
The writer of Hebrews went further concerning Jesus’ birth and death on humanity. He wrote, “10 In bringing many sons and daughters to glory [In redeeming people to God], it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their [human] salvation [Jesus] perfect through what he [Jesus] suffered. 11 Both the one who makes people holy [Jesus] and those who are made holy [saved people] are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them [saved people] brothers and sisters” (Hebrews 2:10-11). This is a crucial bit of Scripture for it tells us that those people who come into God’s presence do so only through Jesus because Jesus makes them holy. The effect of Jesus’ birth as a human and subsequent death was to make a way for people to be holy again, meaning purified from sin. To be brought into the presence of God does not happen because you were a good person, or kind, or charitable, or that you attended a Baptist, Roman Catholic, or Non-denominational church. To be brought into the presence of God happens because you were made holy by Jesus and that Jesus calls you brother or sister. Those are not my words, or those of some Baptist book or website. Those words we have plainly seen come directly from the Bible. God makes clear that we are free to accept those words or reject those words but the one thing we are not permitted to do is change those words.
So our Advent celebration brings with it an understanding that the Son of God came into the world as the Son of God and the Son of Man, bearing the name Jesus. And in that coming into the world, Jesus did so to die, making the way to come into God’s eternal presence by being saved and being made holy by God’s grace. This is what is occurring through the birth and death of Jesus. But why is it happening?
The writer of Hebrews helps us there and gives us an answer as to why this is all happening. Let’s look at verses 14 through 17 of chapter 2. “14 Since the children have flesh and blood [people], he [Jesus] too shared in their humanity so that by his [Jesus’] death he [Jesus] might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 16 For surely it is not angels he [Jesus] helps, but Abraham’s descendants. 17 For this reason he [Jesus] had to be made like them [the people], fully human in every way, in order that he [Jesus] might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he [Jesus] might make atonement for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:14-17).
The birth of Jesus was as we said it was in the beginning. God, who was and is outside his creation, entered his creation, but God did so to engage in a spiritual battle against the devil of this world. The battle was to save those people seeking God. This is why the Gospel of John describes Jesus coming into the world as a light shining in the darkness and as true light, not the false light of Satan (John 1:4, 9). In the same Gospel of John, we would later and again read, “19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil (John 3:19). The coming of Jesus into the world was like light coming into a completely dark room and that light was a signal to all that a spiritual battle had begun. God had invaded territory the enemy, Satan. The invasion from God would overwhelm Satan and would once and for all time break the power of Satan has over the people. That happened by Christ dying for everyone, to pay for their sins, your sins and my sins, once and for all time. After the completion of that death, Jesus would be restored to his full glory and status in heaven pioneering the way, blazing the trail, for others to follow to God. Jesus, because he was made in human form, would move us from darkness, sin, enslavement, and fearful to be holy and set apart again for God. That is why Jesus was born.
It is important for us to see the necessity that Jesus was human as well as God. Jesus, the Son of God, came in human form to experience human life and human death and for the people to see him back into life again. Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection to life again breaks human fear of death, it breaks the grip that sin has on our life, because are no longer deceived and now clearly see that all life, now and eternally, is guaranteed by Jesus. This is what we celebrate in the Advent season, that the humanity of Jesus changed the world. Have you allowed the humanity of Jesus to change you? Let us pray.