Maybe using a bit of Latin isn’t the wisest introduction to what I want to say. But the words we use Sunday by Sunday haven’t moved much beyond it: when during the Creed we say of Jesus that he “was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary.” I still remember much anguish in the debate over how those words should be translated when the Common Worship liturgy was introduced in 2000. For those who stick with the Latin at least those words haven’t been changed for the last 1,700 years.
Regardless of the language we may use, what the words are trying to do is to state the central truth of Christianity - that God comes to us in human flesh (the Latin is in carne, hence the word incarnate). We know God because of the birth of Jesus - born of the Virgin Mary, but also of the Holy Spirit. God doesn’t come to us merely in human form. That might suggest that Jesus only looks human. But God’s Son really is human - and he really is God. That’s something worth marvelling at, even if you end up struggling with the words of the Creed.
I started thinking about this again not just because we’re approaching Christmas, but also because I’ve once more came across a little book on my shelves called “Creeds in the Making.” I bought it on 14th February 1975 - and obviously read it carefully because it’s full of underlinings (my writing was arguably even worse than it is now, though perhaps a bit more legible). I read it as part of a college group when I was at university - together exploring the truths of Christian faith which are summed up in those words of the Creed we use each Sunday. I wonder if people would find it a bit dry now. It’s just 130 pages long - but perhaps too long for most study groups now. It was written in 1935 - so was already 40 years old when we read it. Not many books survive the tests of time so long these days.
Christian faith is something believed in now for 2000 years, built on still older foundations and expressing eternal truths. At its heart there’s the story of how God enters our human history - in the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem. History isn’t just stuff that happened a long time ago. It’s the reality of what impinges on human existence. In the incarnation it’s the reality of God at work in a particular time and a particular place, coming to us in Jesus. And the result is that God is at work for every time and every place. We may wonder about that when atrocities in Paris are too close to home. Then we need to remember the harshness of life in so many other parts of the world. But in all of them God wants to make his home - as he does first of all in Bethlehem.