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Christmas Day A 2nd Reading

Hebrews 1:1-4, (5-12)

Ryan Quanstrom | Pastor, Clyde Park Church of the Nazarene

“I’m only human.” Its the phrase that people use to excuse themselves for a mistake. Typically we use it to speak to the weakness of our wills or as an explanation for hurt. It is usually paired with “what did you expect” sometimes out loud, and sometimes implied.

While I hear this phrase and understand what people intend to say, nonetheless I cannot stand when people say it. I am especially hard on clergy when they use the phrase. “I meant to visit you in the hospital, but i’m only human.”

I want to ask my clergy friends what happened to their study of Christology. Have they not read Apostles and Nicene Creeds? Have they not understood the debates on the hypostatic union between the human and the divine in Christ? If we speak of humanity as inherently flawed, then what does that do to Mary’s child, Jesus of Nazareth?

Don’t orthodox Christians understand Jesus to be both fully human and divine? Don’t we confess that Jesus, Miriam’s Child, “for us and for our salvation became flesh?” [1] And when we say that, we do not, and cannot say “Jesus’ humanity is unlike our own.” In his letter to Cleonis Gregory of Nazianzus says, “For that which He has not assumed He has not healed.”

This maxim is essential for all Christian theology because it speaks to the great mystery that occurred on Christmas morning. It is a belief that we confess, but providing an argument for its possibility is often difficult. This Christmas morning, we perhaps do not need to delve into that question. We would do well, however to focus on the ways in which the incarnation is in and of itself is salvific.

The writer of Hebrews begins his letter with a description of the Son of God. “God made his Son the heir of everything and created the world through him. The Son is the light of God’s glory and the imprint of God’s being. He maintains everything with his powerful message. After he carried out the cleansing of people from their sins, he sat down at the right side of the highest majesty.” [2]

This Son of God is the same babe in the manger. Often we use Christmas to remind the church about Jesus humanity. We use it to speak to God’s vulnerability and God’s kenosis. And those are incredibly important. How can Jesus grow in wisdom and stature if He does not first lower himself to the form of an infant? We need Jesus to be incarnate. We need to know that Jesus has been tempted like us in every way. We need to know that Jesus’ humanity is not just similar to ours, but that Jesus humanity is true humanity. Soren Kierkegaard calls Jesus the “prototype”[3] for humanity.

As we look at Jesus’ infancy, we should not leave Jesus in the manger. But we would do well to remind our congregations that the infant in the manger is also the “heir of everything.” Sergius Bulgakov puts it this way, “the coming of the Son into the world is… God’s primordial grace, existing before the creation of the world, that is, constituting the very foundation and the goal of the world.” [4]

The infant in the manger ultimately sits at the right side of God. And Jesus’ humanity is not different from our own. His humanity is true humanity. If ours is any different it is because we have negated our true selves. Evil, properly speaking, is non substantial. Our sin therefore, is not a true form of humanity. Our sin is a denial of our true humanity. When we fall short of the glory of God, this is not who God created us to be.

Perhaps Christmas is the perfect day to correct our anthropology. Jesus is the true humanity. And in his incarnation we get to see a deified human being. In Him we see one who is “Entirely Sanctified” or “perfected in love.”

Jesus’ kenotic event at birth is not just a lowering of himself. It is also opens the door for our deification. We should remind our churches that God makes the lame to walk, the blind to see, and the sin sick sanctified. This is all possible because the one who is higher than the angels shares in our humanity. Let Hebrews remind us what we ought to mean when we say, “I’m only human.”

[1] Nicene Creed

[2] Hebrews 1:2-3 CEB

[3] Kierkegaard, Søren, Howard V. Hong, Edna H. Hong, and Søren Kierkegaard. For self-examination ; Judge for yourself! Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990.

[4] Sergiĭ Bulgakov, The Lamb of God (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2008), 169.