For 10-year-old Tendo, it is confusing that God would become man, like us, to save us. ‘Why didn’t he use his power like Wonder Woman to save the world,’ she muses, during her Advent Sunday School class. While Tendo’s thoughts may be juvenile, the underlying sentiments reflect those of many Africans. For instance, many Baganda of Uganda adhere to their spiritual world because of their ancestral worship heritage. God as spirit is a much easier concept to accept than God as a man. But without adequately reckoning Jesus’s humanity, we risk undermining its significance to Christmas: our annual reminder that God is here, present, and with us.
Journey with me through scripture and discover why we should celebrate and ponder Jesus’s humanity this Christmas.
The Promise of the Seed
The Bible begins with the divine union between the Creator and his creation. But this glorious union is interrupted by Satan’s deceit. Because God is holy and does not dwell with sinners, he casts them out of his divine presence. Death and fear reigned as their reward.
The Buganda myths portray Baganda as those petrified by evil principalities. The tales end with an anticipation of a king, like Kintu, who will overcome our enemies and establish order and prosperity. But have they achieved this victory?
Despite the devastation of sin, God’s desire to tabernacle with his people remained alive.
Despite the devastation of sin, God’s desire to tabernacle with his people remained alive, which is the backbone of the biblical narrative. More so, the Bible asserts that humanity’s redemption from the devil would come from another human, like us (Genesis 3:1-11, 15). He is the “seed” of a woman, one that does not need a man for conception. This “seed” will defeat the serpent, albeit with a bruised heel (Genesis 3:15; 22:17).
The Prophecy of the King
The woman’s seed becomes the seed of Abraham, who rises from Judah and holds the ruler’s staff (Genesis 49:10). He is the stump of Jesse on whom the Spirit dwells (Isaiah 11:1), the son of David who is to come (1 Kings 1:29-30).
The hope of God’s Old Testament people was tethered to the prophecy of a son, a future Davidic king who will establish God’s kingdom, granting them peace (Isaiah 9:6-7; 2 Samuel 7:11-13). He will triumphantly deliver the remnant from the devil and darkness (Isaiah 12:1-6;10:20-27), faithfully establishing the Davidic kingdom forever (Isaiah 9:7; 2 Samuel 7:16).
Christ Jesus: Both Seed and King
Matthew’s genealogy sets Jesus as the seed of a woman, the offspring of Abraham and the son of David (Matthew 1:1-17). He is the seed of a woman, born without a man, by the power of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18). Jesus is Abraham’s seed, who “in the fullness of time” was born of a woman to dispel the powers of darkness and reclaim and bless his people (Galatians 4:4-5; see also Luke 2:30-32).
Zechariah rejoiced when he saw that Israel’s God had visited his people as a human king.
Jesus is the shoot of Jesse, full of the Spirit, the heir to the throne of his father David, who reigns over God’s eternal kingdom (Luke 1:32-33; Acts 2:30). Zechariah rejoiced when he saw that Israel’s God had visited his people as a human King (John 8:56; Luke 1:67-75). The King was born of a woman, whom he created, and being a creature like us, he cleansed creation and reclaimed his domain from the evil principalities (Philippians 2:6-7). But, like Tendo, you might still ask: why was it necessary for God to condescend to humanity?
Was it Really Necessary for God to Put on Flesh?
Swaddled in a feeding trough on a starry night was the culmination of humanity’s hope for salvation. The baby was a lofty King yet born in a lowly state (Luke 1:52; 2:12, 16). He was like all humans except for sin (Luke 2:7; Hebrews 2:14; 7:26). For that reason, baby Jesus could represent us before God and reconcile us to God.
For Irenaeus, “Christ becomes what we are to make us what he is.” In other words, Christ transformed humanity’s tainted image by becoming like us. That Jesus is human means he understands our dread of death and darkness, and he commiserates with our daily struggles (Isaiah 53:3-4). This human king is greater than Kintu.
Swaddled in a feeding trough on a starry night was the culmination of humanity’s hope for salvation.
However, unlike the first Adam, the last Adam (Jesus Christ) obeyed God. We were made righteous and accepted before God through Christ’s obedience (Romans 5:12-21). But also, Christ showed us what it truly means to be human. As Athanasius remarks, “human beings can learn from humans more directly about higher things.” Christ shows us how to submit our expectations and desires to the divine will and how to overcome temptations to serve lower beings and baser feelings rather than God.
The way to truth and life begins with the baby Jesus in the manger (John 14:6). As Martin Luther said, unlike other religions that begin at the top, Christianity begins at the bottom. It begins in the cradle. May we all run to the baby’s cradle this Christmas.
Christmas: God isn’t Only Near but Here
All the longing, anticipation and groaning of Israel and the earth finds fulfilment and reprieve in Jesus.
The fevered build-up to Christmas carries an infectious cadence. The season is effervescent with hope and joy regardless of how challenging the year has been. But Christmas isn’t only a potpourri of mirth and family time. It is a celebration of the miraculous birth of God’s Son. Christmas reminds us that God’s promised seed and king is here. This truth echoes through the past, the present and the future because of its unparalleled significance. All the longing, anticipation and groaning of Israel and the earth finds fulfilment and reprieve in him. This is the wonder of Christmas.