The Incarnation: History cum Doxology


I am not big on Christmas, for all the usual reasons. Commercialization, not a hint of it in Scripture, and the diversion of traditions that too often blunt, rather than enhance our understanding of the incarnation. But as it happens, I am going through Luke’s gospel these days, where we find the most complete narrative of the birth of Jesus. As my perusal coincides with Christmas I am struck by the duality of what Luke records.

He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David.  – Luke 1:32.

Jesus is called Son of the Most High. The term Most High is full of significance for the Jews, for it is the designation of God Himself. In Genesis 14:22, in his encounter with Melchizedek, Abram answers that he will not take of the spoils he is offered, for “I have lifted up my hand to YHWH, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth.”  This is the Hebrew ‘elyown, and is also used several times in the Psalms. Not just by David (21:7 “For the King trusts in YHWH, and through the steadfast love of the Most High he shall not be moved.”) but also the Sons of Korah (46:4), Asaph (77:10), and anonymously (91:1, 92:1). This title speaks of power and supremacy. The Most High is Possessor of heaven and earth. The link to Luke’s narrative is both theological and (indirectly) linguistic. It is doubtless the case that when the angel spoke the title to Mary, telling her that Jesus would be Son of the Most High, she knew exactly what this meant. The Magnificat reveals a young Jewish woman who was familiar with the promises to the patriarchs, and their importance. As part of that, she would also know that Son of the Most High was a direct ascription of deity to the baby she would bear.  It is further confirmed in verse 35 of the same chapter. “Therefore the child to be born will be called holy – the Son of God.” The linguistic link is that ‘elyown, when translated in the Septuagint, is rendered as ὕψιστος which is the same Greek word that Luke uses in 1:32. That link, while not inspired, is nonetheless interesting to note.

Here is the answer to Arianism in simplicity and grandeur. Simplicity, because the entrance of God Himself into the world would through an infant. He who called the world into existence would enter it in utter humility. But it is grandeur as well, for He is born not only as Son of God, but he is to inherit the throne of this father David. He is a king, and will rule over the house of Jacob forever. Thus in the person of Christ we have both Son of God, and Son of David, deity and humanity together. When we recognize the incarnation, it is this we identify. Not just the birth of an infant, but the paradox of divine condescension. Others have called it the hypostatic union, which is helpful in the sense of specifying that Jesus is not half God, half man. He is fully God and fully man, yet he is one man in whom these two natures are found. There is no other explanation for Son of God and Son of David.

What Luke has recorded for us is history, but history that is the substance of theology, and should lead us on to doxology. The historical facts of the eternal Son become man should impel us to worship. Since it is biblical history, it is also something to be believed and affirmed. To those who suggest it is not significant how Jesus came into the world, Luke’s record is a rebuke.”When Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me” (Heb 10:5).  His was a body untainted by Adam’s sin, because Adam was not his first father. That aspect of his birth is vital to the salvific value of his death. Being without the sin of Adam goes back to the incarnation. That body was put on the cross, when Jesus did the will of His Father in dying. We should recall this as we think of the birth of Jesus.

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