In our evangelical tradition we tend to make much of Jesus’ superiority to all others. We emphasise his difference from us. That means at Christmas we want to say that the baby who was born was The King, Christ the Lord.
We don’t seem to be nearly so interested in saying that Christ the Lord was a baby. Which is strange, because that’s the thing that happened at Christmas, isn’t it? He was already the Lord. He became the baby. The baby is big news.
As I read the NT it gives plenty of space to the reality that Jesus is like us. In fact that God, in Jesus, has become like us. Not surprising that this gets noticed, really, since the likeness is the new bit.
God was always (and always will be) different from us. He became like us at Christmas. Difference is expected. Likeness is big news.
I’ve always thought this was the just about the most shocking and scandalous thing the Christian faith has to offer. And as such it’s always attracted me in a kind of terrifying way. There’s so much that’s disturbing here, perhaps that one reason we tend to avoid talking about it. Much safer to talk about God’s uniqueness and transcendence. Nothing confusing about that.
To get a sense of the threat the incarnation is to comfortable middle class existence, consider a statement like this:
Now since the children have flesh and blood in common, He also shared in these, so that through His death He might destroy the one holding the power of death…Therefore He had to be like His brothers in every way, so that He could become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God (Hebrews 2:14,17)
The dangerous thing is: if in Jesus God has come close, if his way of saving us relies on his coming close, then just how close has he come? A statement like ‘he had to be made like his brothers in every way’ is enough to send a chill down the spine. In every way? Really? The writer goes on to say ‘since He Himself suffered and was tempted/tested, He is able to help those who are tempted/tested.’ Jesus’ ability to help us is dependent on his having gone through the same experiences we do, especially at the level of thoughts and desires, the arena in which tempting and testing primarily happens.
Notice that the writer is glorying in this: God’s act of solidarity with us, his coming near. He clearly thinks it’s worth dwelling on.
We don’t often do that, and with good reason. Because what he is describing seems to be solidarity with sinful human flesh. Our flesh and blood are corrupted, so that they are not compatible with God’s kingdom:
flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor can the perishable inherit the imperishable (1 Corinthians 15:50)
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are – yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15)