A Saviour from another world
But even though making life bearable has ever been a fringe benefit of Christianity, it has never been the main goal. Think of the Bible’s use of big words about salvation (words that still resonate with our culture) – like ‘redemption’, ‘deliverance’ and ‘atonement’. These words have even found their way into major movie titles in recent years.
They convey that something is wrong with this world and our lives, and we need to be rescued – which, deep down, we know about. But what do we need to be rescued from and where does this rescue come from?
The real problem
Some look for ‘salvation’ to the heroes of history – people like Nelson Mandela, the embodiment of social change in southern Africa, or Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928), so prominent in women’s emancipation at the end of the nineteenth century.
The potential list of heroes is very long, but somehow, for all their greatness, the ‘salvation’ such people provide doesn’t measure up to what is needed. Interestingly, that search is also embedded deeply in the message of the Bible.
The Bible, from its earliest chapters, having explained how things went so badly wrong in the world through man’s sin, picks up on the pervasive human longing for things to be right again and on the quest for a person who will do it.
It charts the history of great leaders raised up by God. Some of these were involved in remarkable events, but they all fell short of what was needed. Even people like Noah, Abraham, Moses and David – ‘premier league’ players by biblical standards – failed to deliver what this world needs. Why? Because they themselves were part of the problem.
They were fallen human beings, who belonged to a fallen world. Yes, they could make the world a better place temporarily, but they could not save it. And they all fell prey to the ‘great leveller’, who will one day get us all.
The dream of someone who will make everything all right with the world is still alive and well – witness, the British Prime Minister’s recent Freudian slip about ‘saving the world’. But it does seems just that – a dream.
The real hero
But the Bible’s own list of flawed heroes only serves to drive home its underlying point that what we really need is a deliverer from outside this world – one who is not part of the problem, but who is genuinely the solution.
This part of the Bible’s unfolding message is its good news (or ‘gospel’). It’s all about Jesus Christ. It takes a particular interest in who Jesus is and the way he came into the world. Jesus was very clearly a human being, ‘made like us in every way’. At the same time it is clear that he is not just a human being.
So the fascination with Christ’s conception, birth and resurrection is critical to the gospel message. For what makes Jesus different from every other world leader is that he is God in human flesh. This is captured eloquently in John’s Gospel, where it says, ‘the Word [that is, the Son of God] became flesh and made his dwelling among us’ (John 1:14).
He is the Saviour from another world, free from flaw and failure. He is the only One able to provide the salvation that is needed for ours.
Why, then, has the incarnation been such a big concern for the church through the years? Because it tells us Jesus brings salvation – from above!