The puritans aren’t known for their love of the Christmas season. They did, however, love the incarnation. John Flavel addressed this topic in his sermon on Philippians 2:8, which will be the subject of this article. I will briefly summarize some of his comments on the incarnation as part of Christ’s state of deep abasement and humiliation, and then highlight one of his practical inferences.
Flavel said that the incarnation was a most wonderful act of humiliation and an astonishing mystery. If God had not revealed this great truth to us in the Scriptures, “it would have seemed a rude blasphemy…to have thought or spoken of the eternal God, as born in time; the world’s Creator as a creature; the ancient of Days, as an infant of days.”
Even more remarkable than God becoming a man is that he “assumed the human nature, after sin had blotted the original glory of it, and withered up the beauty and excellency thereof.” Flavel appealed to Romans 8:3 to support this point, which says that the Son came in the likeness of sinful flesh. This does not mean that Christ “assumed sinful flesh, or flesh really defiled by sin.” Christ’s body was holy and had no “intrinsical native uncleanness in it.” But it does mean that his body had the “marks, and miserable effects, and consequents of sin upon it.” As a result, Christ was subject to “the whole troop of human infirmities,” which are part of the wages of sin, such as “hunger, thirst, weariness, pain, mortality, and all these natural weaknesses and evils that clog our miserable natures, and make them groan from day to day under them.” Jesus, therefore, looked like a sinner even though he wasn’t one.
In addition to this, the Son of God was born into a poor, obscure home. He wasn’t born of a woman in a palace, but “of a poor woman in Israel, espoused to a carpenter.” Indeed, he wasn’t even born at home, but in someone else’s small house, and laid in a feeding trough.
One practical application of the incarnation is that it sets an example of humility and self-denial that we, as Christians, should emulate. Flavel wrote: “Did Christ for our sakes stoop from the majesty, glory and dignity he was possessed of in heaven, to the mean and contemptible state of a man? What a pattern of self-denial is here presented to Christians.” In light of the incarnation, therefore, we should humble ourselves and “be ready to perform the lowest and meanest offices of love and service to one another.”
Many years ago, my college friend and I engaged in some door to door evangelism. We met this single man who clearly struggled with a number of problems and lived alone in a filthy apartment. We went back to visit him the following week and my friend came prepared to clean his bathroom. That was something I didn’t even think to do, no doubt, because it was something I didn’t want to do. But my friend didn’t want me to help him. Instead, he told me to share the gospel with this man because I was more gifted in that area. I didn’t think that was true, but at the same time I didn’t want to argue with him because the bathroom was horrendous. My friend that day embodied the spirit of the incarnation. May we all go and do likewise this Christmas season and indeed for the rest of our lives.