by Noel Smith, founding editor of the Baptist Bible Tribune
Excerpted from “The Incarnation,” published in the Tribune December 25, 1953
When I first heard this exalted term, Incarnation, many long weary years ago, my age, background, and capacities precluded any appreciation and understanding of its nature and consequences. But the term itself fell upon my ears like the peals of a great organ rolling out from the brooding mountains. I have never been quite the same since. I felt that Incarnation meant that something vast and profound had taken place on earth.
[And now] as Christmas approaches, Incarnation has for me all the wonder, sublime mystery and deep and abiding appeal that it had the first time it ever fell upon my ears. I can’t remember any time when the circumstances were so drab and monotonous that reflection on the Incarnation did not elevate my thought and lift my spirit into realms of wonder and amazement. For me Incarnation has never become commonplace.
I read from the first chapter of John’s Gospel. I am not going to attempt a profound or theological exposition of these verses. I wish to take them as they appear here in our English Bible. I wish to talk to you about them as they have appealed to me.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
Many things are true in that statement. But one thing is clearly true: in the beginning the Word dwelt alone, apart from men. Who is God? What is God like? What does God think of me? What does God think of sinning men? What is His attitude toward the poor, distracted human race? Those are the oldest questions of the human mind and heart.
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
That’s the Incarnation! God who inhabited eternity, came down — and down, and down, and down — until He reached a bed of straw in a Judean village — a bed of straw that was not made for Him, but for a beast of burden.
He, who was wrapped in the garments of eternity; Creator of heaven and earth and all that in them is; He who was responsible for eternity;
He who scattered the stars in space; He who fixed the boundaries of the mighty seas — God came down to Bethlehem, became Mary’s infant, and was wrapped in torn strips of a discarded garment which Luke delicately calls swaddling clothes: that’s the Incarnation! I don’t wonder that the Judean sky was filled with kingly-faced hosts. I don’t wonder that the Judean hills were baptized with the golden music of Paradise. I don’t wonder that plain and simple shepherds suddenly found themselves caught up in a great and strange dignity. I don’t wonder that wise men suddenly saw a strange and brilliant star. The Cause of Eternity, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying close to a Virgin’s heart! That’s the Incarnation. You need not hesitate to accept the wonderful truth. He Himself said, “ … he that hath seen me hath seen the Father.”
And this brings us back to our questions. Who is God like? He is like Jesus talking of hens and chickens, and boys and girls, and the poor sewing new patches on old garments.
He is like Jesus talking of kings on a long journey, of a sower sowing his seed, of a rich man clothed in purple and fine linen, of a poor widow seeking redress at the hands of a harsh judge, of a sparrow falling from its nest in the storm, of the lilies smiling in the Judean sunlight.
What does God think of lonely politicians with their empty hearts and barren spirits? He thinks what Jesus thought of Matthew when He looked into his sad eyes, and said, “Come, follow me.”
What does God think of young men who have disgraced their parents, wrecked their lives and reduced themselves to poverty and shame? He thinks what Jesus thought when He told of a prodigal who came back home in rags, expecting to be made a hired servant, but sat down to a feast — with a robe on his back, shoes on his feet, and a ring on his finger.
What does God think when we stand by the open grave, watch the casket lowered, hear the dirt fall with dull thuds? He thinks what Jesus thought when He wept at Lazarus’ grave.
What does God think of this world of tired, weary, worn-out men and women and boys and girls? He thinks what Jesus thought when He looked out upon them and, in a voice of appealing tenderness and compassion, cried: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
The Incarnation says that God is like Jesus. My heart rejoices when I reflect that the Creator, before whom eternity itself is but a vapor above the morning hills, is moved when the sparrow falls, and weeps when the children of men die. I tell you, I am deeply moved when I reflect that He who brought forth the everlasting hills, “thinketh upon me,” and is moved to tenderness and pity when He remembers that my frame is dust. I can understand hell, but I never have been able to understand the compassionate love of God.