Incarnate to be the Christ
This was written for St. Martin's Advent Quiet Day in which each speaker reflected on a different aspect of Christ's Incarnation. I was tasked with connecting the Incarnation to Israel's longing for God's Messiah.
To set the stage for our meditation, “Incarnate to be the Christ,” I would like to read a few portions of Psalm 24:
“Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?
Who may stand in his holy place?
The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not trust in an idol
or swear by a false god.
“They will receive blessing from the Lord
and vindication from God their Savior.
“Lift up your heads, you gates;
be lifted up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The Lord strong and mighty,
the Lord mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, you gates;
lift them up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is he, this King of glory?
The Lord Almighty—
he is the King of glory.”
Who then is this King of Glory that the psalmist speaks of? It is God himself. Who is the Savior who vindicates his people? The psalm says that is God too.
If you want to sum up the Old Testament, all the struggles the people of Israel and Judah had, all the things the prophets tried to tell them, exile, and everything else that came their way, it can be summed up in this simple idea: God was always and forever supposed to be the King of Glory and the savior of his people.
The Israelites dancing around their newly fashioned golden calf is a great example of their tendency to slide away from God’s will to be Israel’s all in all. But there is a more subtle passage that marks the ultimate turning point in Israel’s dependence on God (or lack thereof).
It happened in the latter days of the Prophet Samuel when he had grown old. The elders of Israel demanded that he appoint a king over the nation…in order that they would be like every other nation. But that was the catch, they were not supposed to be like every other nation.
It was this invisible God named Yahweh who ruled the nation, it was their God who fought for them in battle, protected and provided for them. The king of glory was not a mortal nor an idol, but the One True God himself. He cared for his people with the attentiveness of an earthly king, but he also ruled the heavenly hosts.
The Prophet Samuel was distraught at their request for a human king. He knew that a king will tax them, take the best of their fields and vineyards, and send them into wars that were unnecessary. But the people didn’t care—they wanted to be like the nations around them.
God came to Samuel and said: “Give them a king, it is not you they have rejected but me as their king. After everything I’ve done for them, bringing them out of Egypt and settling them in the land, they have now forsaken me.”
And so, God gave the people what they wanted, even though it would lead to their downfall. From that one request, we get kings like Saul, David, and Solomon—characters who at different moments exemplify righteousness and unrighteousness. Even at their best, they are not the true King of Glory.
Years go by and the result is a kingdom divided in two, Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Assyria wiped out the former and Babylon exiled the latter. They are no longer ruled by their own flesh and blood, and on top of that, they have been banished from their land.
It is in this humbling state of Babylonian exile that the people began to look at God’s original promise to be their one true king, and from that, bubbles up prophecies of an Anointed One who would be a leader sent from God to restore the kingdom and its people.
The Hebrew for “Anointed One” is Messiah, and in Greek, it’s translated as “Christ.”
Fast forward to when John the Evangelist first sat down to write his letter of good news, known as a gospel. He knew all too well the history we’ve just covered, and he believed something drastic had recently happened to update not only the history of Israel but the entire world. He grabbed some parchment and the first thing he wrote was, “In the beginning and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”
In his gospel, much like three similar letters that were being circulated at the time, he was making the case that Israel’s Anointed had indeed come—but was now gone.
He was with God, and he was God. The Evangelist makes the case that the divine Word of God, “the Logos,” as he calls him, took on flesh and blood and was Jesus of Nazareth—the man his followers claimed was crucified and rose on the third day.
This Nazarene was not only God’s anointed leader that would bring Israel back into right relation with God, but that he was God himself.
To the religious leaders of the day, this seemed blasphemous. A creature could not claim to be the Creator. Such teaching was dangerous and could destroy the teaching that God was One.
What all four of the gospel writers claim is that this was in line with the ancient prophesies that foretold of God becoming Israel’s king once again. He himself had come among his people, he had walked with them, cared for them, and even died for them.
None of Israel or Judah’s kings had ever laid their life down for their people. None had suffered torture and humiliation for them, and none had dared claim that they were doing it, not only for God’s chosen people but for the whole world.
As all of heaven looked down at the babe in the manger and the man on the cross, their cries were, “This is the King of glory.”
The Lord had come to do what none of us could do for ourselves; what no king of Israel or any ruler of the earth could do, but only God himself.
Incarnate to be the Christ. That is the idea we are to consider this morning.
It is important for us to remember that sending Jesus wasn’t the backup plan if we fell from God’s grace; God didn’t scramble looking for a Plan B when Adam and Eve sinned.
If God is perfect and all-knowing then there are no surprises for him. Thus, from the beginning of creation (and even before) the manger, the cross, and the grave were already in the mind of God.
This opens up a whole host of thoughts and questions, but for our purposes today it is simply worth pointing out that the Incarnation was God’s plan from the very beginning.
Throughout the Bible, God would display his lordship over creation in a number of ways (the Flood, the Plagues in Egypt, crossing the Red Sea, manna from heaven, etc.), but none more dramatic—and necessary—than the Eternal Word taking on flesh and blood.
As we have said, Israel’s true king (and indeed the world’s true king) was always and forever supposed to be God and God alone.
Jesus showed us through his life, and his death, what his kingdom looks like. It is not like any kingdom of this world—the downtrodden are lifted up, the last become first, and the desire for greatness is replaced by humility.
What was done, once and for all, by his Incarnation and ultimate sacrifice on the cross rings loud and clear today, but it also directs our ultimate attention to when the final bells toll at the closing of the Age.
Jesus is Lord of heaven and earth at this very moment. He reigns as the King of Glory, but in this Advent season, we look through his Incarnation as a way to envision his second coming.
As Messiah and Lord, he will also be our Advocate and Judge. The scrolls will be opened, and all history will be before him. As dreadful as that may seem, it is also when all wrongs will be put right; when the crooked ways will become straight.
All evil, pain, and violence will be accounted for and then judged. Auschwitz, and more recently, Bucha in Ukraine will be on that list. The harm that we have done will also be on that list. And then, it will all be named and made right in the eyes of God.
The Christ undoubtedly was seen as an End Times figure. This was true for Israel’s prophets, for John the Evangelist, and it is a truth we must reckon with during Advent.
Christ has come, and he will surely come again.
The closing lines of the Book of Revelation sum up much of ancient Israel’s hopes of the Messiah, especially Psalm 24, but it’s also the root of our Christian hope whether we realize it or not.
Here this from Revelation 22:
“'I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.'
The Spirit and the bride say, 'Come!' And let the one who hears say, 'Come!' Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.
He who testifies to these things says, 'Yes, I am coming soon.'
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen” (Revelation 22:12-17, 20-21).
May we long with expectant hearts for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, knowing that even now, he is the King of glory.