This passage about the incarnation is so familiar that we often fail to be shocked at what it is saying. “Incarnation” is a fancy way of saying that God became a baby human”
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. … 14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 1:1-3, 14 NASB
It is clear that John the Apostle is talking about the creator of all things, God Himself. God the Creator became flesh and dwelt among us, in a way we could perceive. God became a helpless baby who couldn’t even talk or walk. Did God have to learn to stop peeing in His pants? Did God have to learn to talk? How could this possibly be?
This is utterly shocking!
The Greek word “Kenosis” embodies this idea. It means an emptiness or depletion. The New testament uses the word in its verb form, “kenóō”, to empty:
5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:5-11 NASB
Lowliness Defines the True Character of God
We think that God is high and mighty, majestic and utterly demanding. We think the law defines the character of God. But truly, the kenosis defines the character of God. Consider this:
17 For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. – Jhn 1:17 NASB
Jesus Christ is not defined as the law giver. That is Moses. Jesus Christ is defined as the giver of grace and truth. The truth is, we need grace. As Martin Luther notes in his commentary on Galatians, it is futile to think that we can find God in the heavens by apprehending His majesty and beauty. We are aliens to His holiness and perfection, and if we were near it we would surely die. God has instead come to us in lowliness:
True Christian theology does not inquire into the nature of God, but into God’s purpose and will in Christ, whom God incorporated in our flesh to live and to die for our sins. There is nothing more dangerous than to speculate about the incomprehensible power, wisdom, and majesty of God when the conscience is in turmoil over sin. To do so is to lose God altogether because God becomes intolerable when we seek to measure and to comprehend His infinite majesty. We are to seek God as Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 1:23, 24: “We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” Begin with Christ. He came down to earth, lived among men, suffered, was crucified, and then He died, standing clearly before us, so that our hearts and eyes may fasten upon Him. Thus we shall be kept from climbing into heaven in a curious and futile search after the nature of God.
Luther, Martin. Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians (p. 6). Kindle Edition.
The Scandal of the Incarnation
So God has acted proactively in coming to reveal Himself in lowliness through incarnation. He has emptied Himself of His Godhood to walk among us, for our sakes. His very birth was an incredible act of startling sacrificial love. This is a mystery and a scandal so great that we can scarce take it in. “Mary did you know that your baby boy was the great I am?” She did not know. Who could have guessed?! This is the thing that scandalized the Jews. It scandalizes us now. God could not become a baby! Yet, cannot God do ANYTHING? Is anything too difficult for God? Apparently not.
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. 18 He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. 19 For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, 20 and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. – Col 1:15-20 NASB