Christmas, Advent, or Incarnation?

Christmas and Advent both celebrate the coming of Jesus to this Earth, but Advent differs from Christmas in that it also celebrates the second coming of Jesus as the Mighty God and Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6), whereas Christmas focuses only on his first coming as a baby.

For some Christians, however, neither Advent or Christmas are suitable terms, because neither tell the full story behind Jesus’ birth. Christmas, for instance, has buried the story in a circus of meaningless rituals, and Advent is an old-fashioned term that makes for nice children’s calendars leading up to Christmas, but offers no insight to non-Christians as to why Jesus was born. The term these Christians prefer for celebrating Jesus’ birth, therefore, is ‘Incarnation’.

Incarnation is defined as taking on the body and nature of a human, which is exactly what happened to Jesus. He was God in human flesh, and Incarnation focuses our full attention on that, not on all those pesky Christmas customs that don’t tell us anything about why Jesus was born as a human being. It’s better than ‘Advent’ too, because Advent is associated more with a season than on Jesus the person.

But ‘Incarnation’ is not a perfect term for celebrating Jesus’ birth either, because the Incarnation didn’t begin at his birth. It began before we and our world existed. Jesus was slain before the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8, 1 Peter 1:19-20), so from where God sits and in how he views time, the Incarnation of Jesus happened long before he was born as a baby from Mary. Jesus knew “before the creation of the world” that he would become a flesh and blood human being (Ephesians 1:4) who would die on a cross (verse 7), so the Incarnation was already in motion before we existed, and Jesus’ willingness to go through with it made it a certainty.

The time would then come (Galatians 4:4) for Jesus to take on the body and nature of a human being (Philippians 2:7-8), but he would continue in that state after his death too, because three days later he came back to life in human form again. And after he ascended back to heaven the disciples were told he would return one day in the same way he left too (Acts 1:11), meaning Jesus will return in the appearance of a human yet again.

When using the term “Incarnation”, therefore, it recognizes that Jesus being human didn’t begin with his birth, nor did it end with his death. The Incarnation extends way beyond his short stint here as a human being. It includes his human birth, but the Incarnation began before our world existed, and it continues forever into the future too.

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