Merry Christmas to all! In the midst of the presents, feasting, and celebrations, I hope this brief reflection on the mystery of Christ’s nature will fuel your own contemplations of the true reason for the Christmas season.
The doctrine of the Incarnation (God in the flesh) stands at the very heart of historic Christianity and is celebrated around the world at Christmastime (known in the church calendar as the Advent season). This biblically derived doctrine teaches that the eternal Word, the second person of the Trinity, took unto himself a human nature and became man without in any way diminishing his deity (John 1:1, 14, 18; Philippians 2:5–6; Colossians 2:9; 1 John 4:1–3). Christian orthodoxy therefore views Jesus Christ as a single person who nevertheless possesses both a divine and human nature. Those two natures (divine and human) find their union in the person of Christ (called the hypostatic union). This theological understanding of the Incarnation led the ancient Christians to refer to Jesus as the theanthropos (Greek: the “God-man”).
Incarnation in Light of the Imago Dei
Undoubtedly the Incarnation doctrine involves much divine mystery. When it defined the doctrine officially, the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451) didn’t attempt to explain just how the two natures that Christ possessed were unified with his personhood. But it seems biblically correct to infer that humankind’s creation in the image of God (Genesis 1:26–27) at least anticipated the Incarnation. Thus it would appear that by making humankind in his divine image, God then also made it possible for himself to take a human nature. In this way, the imago Dei status of human beings foreshadows and facilitates the Incarnation. Theologian Anthony Hoekema asserts, “it was only because man had been created in the image of God that the Second Person of the Trinity could assume human nature.”1 In other words, God made humans in his image because, all along, he planned to become one at the Incarnation in order to redeem lost sinners (2 Timothy 1:9–10).
So in some sense, though still enigmatic and beyond full human comprehension, the human nature of Christ was specially adapted via the imago Dei to accommodate the divine nature. Thus Jesus was fully God and fully man but remained a single person.
I hope identifying this connection between the doctrines of creation and the Incarnation will provoke Christians to both think of and be grateful for the great and deeply mysterious truth-claim that stands at the very heart of Christmas.
For more on the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation, see chapter 9 of my book Without a Doubt.
1. Anthony A. Hoekema, Created in God’s Image (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 22.