For thousands of years of the world’s history, God’s people lived and walked in a state of expectation. They knew that the Saviour was coming, so the bulk of their religion consisted of waiting, and looking forward to the time when this promise would be fulfilled.
When the Son of God did come in our nature, obviously not everyone, even of his own people, recognised him for who he was. But there were still some in Jerusalem who were looking for redemption, and when they saw him, they actually saw his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. When they realised that their eyes were seeing the Lord’s salvation, they rejoiced and blessed God and felt such a sense of peace. ‘We have found the Messiah!’ The Lord had demonstrated himself to be true to his word, the promised Saviour had come, and the Lamb of God was even now in the process of bearing away the sin of the world.
Some years back, I heard a group of ministers discussing the incarnation and the cross. The main thing, they said, or something along these lines, was to adore Christ crucified. The glory of the incarnation is not so great as the glory of the cross, and the real mark of grace is to see the glory of the Saviour in the light of Isaiah 53, and to understand the cross as the wisdom and power of God.
This is of course true. No doubt there is and has been a sentimental tendency to talk up the grace of the Son in becoming man and joining us in our difficult and depressing circumstances – all fluffy complacency about the sympathy and empathy we feel we need in our state of misery, and little concern about the salvation we really need from our state of sin. It is completely wrong of this kind of sentimentalism to try to avoid mentioning uncomfortable things like sin-bearing and propitiation and expiation, Jesus setting his face like a flint to go up to Jerusalem to lay down his life a sin-atoning sacrifice, for love of his holy Father and love of righteousness and love of his sinful, unlovely people. Nobody is more caring than the Lord Jesus, but first he deals with the guilt and pollution of our sin, and that means the cross.
But I think and hope that it can still be a mark of grace to wonder and worship on account of the incarnation. The thought that he came to die on the cross still includes the thought that he came. When the Son of God became the son of man, it was truly the turning point in human history – the triumphant fulfilment of what the Lord had been speaking by his prophets for centuries, the point when the fullness of the time had come, and it brought unheard of glory to God in the highest. The fact that Christ, being the Son of God, became man, was unprecedented humiliation. It was not the deepest part of his humiliation, but it was the first part. This person who was God, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being and all his other attributes, became man – finite, needing to be sustained in life, undergoing growth and development, prone to suffering and sorrow. It is a mystery. And there is such grace to be seen in it: not just the vast distance between how rich he was and how poor he became, but the fact that it was for sinners – sinners, who by definition didn’t deserve it, and whose sin made them utterly hostile to receiving it – and for them, in their place and on their behalf. He had to do all the work for them, and it was a hard work. He who knew no sin was made sin for them, so that they, who knew no righteousness, might be made the righteousness of God in him, even though they didn’t know or care that they needed him, appreciated nothing of what he had to suffer and do for them, had nothing holy or good or attractive about them, and would have carried on perpetually in their enmity against him if he hadn’t made the provision for that as well.
Of course, the fullest scope for adoration of the Lord, in terms of satisfaction with his word coming true, wonder at the mystery, or worship for his grace, is at the cross. It’s the Lamb that was slain who is worthy to all eternity to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and blessing. But that’s not to the exclusion of worshipping him for everything else that he is and does and did and suffered. It is still fitting to sing glory to God in the highest for the day the Saviour was born, even while there is yet more to praise him for over and above that. It is a faithful saying, worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came.