Justin Holcomb is an Episcopal minister (serving as the Canon for Vocations in the Diocese of Central Florida) and teaches theology at Gordon-Conwell-Theological Seminary and Reformed Theological Seminary. You can read more from Justin at justinholcomb.com and connect with him on Twitter @JustinHolcomb.
Around Christmas, we say some amazing things about infant Jesus. Scriptures call baby Jesus Immanuel (God with us) and the Savior. Christmas is all about God becoming human—the Incarnation. When we talk about the Incarnation, we are claiming two things to be true: 1) Jesus is truly God, and 2) Jesus is fully human. These two truths are absolutely essential to salvation because only God can save, and as the early church theologian Gregory of Nazianzus wrote, “That which he has not assumed he has not healed.” In other words, for Christianity to work, Christians need to be able to talk about Jesus as human and Jesus as divine. As fully human and fully divine, Jesus is God with us and for us.
God With Us
Immanuel, God with us, shows us that Jesus came to show his loves for us and to comfort us. A major theme of the Bible is God coming to live among his people: “I will live among them and walk among them, and I will be their God and they will be my people” (Lev. 26: 12; Jer. 32: 38; Ezek. 37: 27; Isa. 7: 14; Matt. 1:21 ).
Jesus is the fulfillment of this hope because he is both fully human and fully God. As John writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him, nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it” (John 1:1–5 ). And we see in Colossians that, “In Christ, all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Col. 2:9, NIV).
But what is happening in the Incarnation is more than metaphysics—it is love.
God For Us
Jesus is the Savior who saves us from our sins. The name “Jesus” is the Greek version of “Joshua,” which means “the Lord saves” (Matt. 1:21 ). Jesus saves us by becoming our substitute. In his teaching, his ministry, his perfect sinless life, his death, and his resurrection, he showed that God is not only with us, but he is for us.
The greatest act Jesus did for us was his sacrificial death on our behalf. As Robert Capon writes, “Jesus came to raise the dead. He did not come to teach the teachable; He did not come to improve the improvable; He did not come to reform the reformable. None of those things works.” John calls him “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29 ), and Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. . . . No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again” (John 10:14–15, 18; NIV).
Colossians 2:13–14 tells us that when we were dead in our sins, God made us alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.
The Incarnation reveals God’s love, comforts us in this life, and redeems us from our sins. One historic prayer blends all these together:
You gave Jesus Christ, your only Son, to be born for us; who, by the mighty power of the Holy Spirit, was made perfect Man of the flesh of the Virgin Mary his mother; so that we might be delivered from the bondage of sin, and receive power to become your children.