The Mystery of the Incarnation

I love this time of year because we ponder as a church (local & universal) the nature of Christ’s person and incarnation. I’ve recently been reading through various early Christian texts, and the other day I came across a selection from a piece written by Gregory of Nazianzus in the fourth century (ca. 329-390). It struck me as a particularly gorgeous thing to read this Christmas season as we contemplate, celebrate, and worship Jesus.

The following selection is Gregory’s Oration 29.20 The Mystery of the Incarnation: A Scriptural Tapestry of Jesus as Man and God. The English translation is Rodney A. Whitacre’s own found in his book A Patristic Greek Reader (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson, 2007), 244-246. Whitacre’s aim is to provide a wooden-ish but readable translation from the Greek text for students who are learning to read the respective Greek portions. Please note also that the scriptural citations I have placed in parentheses here on the blog are not my own but are footnoted in Whitacre’s volume.

The Mystery of the Incarnation: A Scriptural Tapestry of Jesus as Man and God by Gregory of Nazianzus

“He was baptized (Matt. 3:13) as man, but he destroyed sins (Matt. 9:6) as God; he himself was not in need of purifying rites, but [he was baptized/he came] that he might sanctify the waters. He was tempted (Matt. 4:1) as man, but he conquered as God; not only this but he even encouraged [us] to be courageous, since he had conquered the world (John 16:33). He was hungry, but he fed thousands (John 6:10); not only this but he is indeed life-giving and heavenly bread (John 6:51). He was thirsty (John 4:7; 19:28), but he shouted, “If anyone thirst, let him come to me and drink” (John 7:37); not only this but he also promised that those who believe would gush forth [with water] (John 7:38). He was tired (John 4:6), but for those who are tired and heavy laden he is rest (Matt. 11:28). He was heavy with sleep (Matt. 8:24), but he is light upon the sea; not only this but he even rebukes winds; not only this but he even makes Peter light when he is sinking (Matt. 14:25, 29; Matt. 8:26). He pays tax, but [he does so] from a fish (Matt. 17:24-27); not only this but he is even king of those demanding [the tax]. He hears himself called a Samaritan and demon-possessed (John 8:48), but he saves the one who went down from Jerusalem and fell among robbers (Luke 10:30); not only this but he is even recognized by demons (Mark 1:24; Luke 4:34) and drives out demons (Matt. 8:16), and he sinks a legion of spirits (Luke 8:33) and sees the ruler of demons falling like lightning (Luke 10:18). He is stoned, but he is not caught (John 8:59). He prays (Matt. 14:23; 26:36; Heb. 5:7), but he hears [prayers] (Acts 7:59). He weeps (John 11:35), but he causes tears to cease. He asks where Lazarus [is laid] (John 11:34), for he was man, but he raises Lazarus (John 11:43), for he was God. He is sold, and very cheaply, for [it was] for thirty silver coins (Matt. 26:15), but he buys back the world, and [it was] for a great price, for [it was] for his own blood (1 Pet 1:18-19). He was led as a sheep to slaughter (Isa 53:7), but he shepherds Israel, and now, indeed, the whole inhabited world (John 10:11). [He is] silent like a lamb (Isa 53:7; Matt. 26:63), but he is the Word (John 1:1), being proclaimed by a voice of one shouting in the desert (John 1:23). He has been weakened, wounded, but he heals every disease and every infirmity (Isa. 53:5). He is lifted up upon the tree (John 12:32), he is fixed [to it] (Acts 2:23), but he restores by the tree of life (John 6:51); not only this but he saves even a robber crucified with [him] (Luke 23:43); not only this but he darkens everything that is seen (Luke 23:44). He is given cheap wine to drink (Luke 23:36), he is fed bile (Matt. 27:34). Who? The one who changed the water into wine (John 2:1-11), the destroyer of the bitter taste (Heb. 2:9), the [one who is] sweetness and all desire (Song 5:16). He hands over his life, but he has authority to take it again (John 10:18); not only this but the curtain is torn apart (Matt. 27:51); for the things above are exhibited (Cf. Rev. 11:19; 15:5) not only this but rocks are split; not only this but dead are raised beforehand (Matt. 27:51-52). He dies, but he makes alive, and by death he destroys death. He is buried, but he rises. He goes down into Hades (1 Peter 3:18-19), but he brings up souls; not only this but he goes up into heaven; not only this but he will come to judge the living and the dead . . . ” (Gregory of Nazianzus Oration 29.20, translation by Rodney A. Whitacre)

Is that not incredible?

I mean, is Jesus not incredible?!

Life can get pretty noisy and busy two weeks before Christmas. People in store aisles fight over toys (or, at least they do in the movies) and people in the church pews fight over what Christmas is really supposed to look like. BUT, even in the midst of all the noise Jesus is so fiercely compelling, isn’t He? He draws us into His life and He moves us forward, beyond the bickering and even our well-meaning but sometimes misguided sentiment and nostalgia. A forest full of white lights as big as Texas can’t hold a candle to Jesus.

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.
Isaiah 9:2 ESV

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
John 1:1; 4-5 ESV.

O, Come Let Us Adore Him.


166 Responses to “The Mystery of the Incarnation”

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  1. 1
    Emily says:

    This is absolutely beautiful and such a powerful reminder of the miracle (and yes, mystery) of the incarnation. Jesus is indeed incredible. Thank you so much for sharing this!

  2. 2
    Katie says:

    Okay – so that was incredible.

    My husband preaches on the side (an engineer by day – who ever would have thought!?!) and yesterday, he taught a sermon entitled “How Jesus Makes It Personal.” And my goodness….these writings on the incarnation of Christ – just scream how personal Jesus IS. Not just was…or not just will be…..but IS.

    Thank you a million times. So good. Needed it.

    Kate 🙂

  3. 3
    Annette says:

    Amazing, indescribably the Best Thing that ever happened to me…and to you! Christ the Lord! The beautiful paradox of God becoming man to save us. Thanks for sharing this, Melissa. Merry Christmas!

    • 3.1
      Melissa says:

      Hey Annette! Great to hear from you! I love your new picture. Hope you are well and really hope to see you soon.

  4. 4
    Meg Ebba says:

    Do you think Gregory would mind if I printed that out for myself?! This season I am focusing on the carol line that says “prepare him room.” By focusing, I mean that sometimes it fades out and I get bedecked with tinsel, and other times it zooms in and I am overwhelmed with the kindness of Jesus all over again. Thank you for sharing your holiday inspiration! I love the old chestnuts, too.

    • 4.1
      Melissa says:

      I think Gregory would be happy for you to print it out, at least after he got his mind around the whole idea of printing, etc. ;/ Blessings to you.

    • 4.2
      sweet anonymous says:

      Hello Meg,
      I am so glad you asked this, I was wondering the same thing. I am thinking I am going to print it and make copies and put them in with my Christmas cards. I hope Gregory wouldn’t mind that either?

  5. 5
    Amy in Oregon says:

    Thank you, Melissa…for re-directing my focus and attention on the ONLY One who is Worthy of it. This is a beautiful account. He is indeed compelling. Thank you for sharing, and God bless your family.

  6. 6
    Wendy says:

    What an incomprehensible, description of our Jesus. What an incomprehensible description of Perfect Divine Love!Glory to God!

  7. 7
    Warm in Alaska says:

    “He knows our need. To our weakness is no stranger.” (O Holy Night).


    (Where in the world is Nazianzus? From Bethlehem to Nazianzus to Houston to Alaska. I love this Kingdom).

  8. 8
    Amy says:

    Thank you, thank you for posting. This brought tears to my eyes. He’s so amazing.

  9. 9
    sweet anonymous says:

    Thank you so much for sharing such a beautiful and timely word for such a time as this…I will be meditating on this over and over for the next two weeks. I am so much in awe and so deeply in love with our beautiful Savior. I so appreciate your insight you share with us that most suredly makes my love and awe of Him increase all the more. I pray you and your family have a very blessed Christmas! Sending much love your way…sweet anonymous

  10. 10

    The writing from this oration is so beautiful and poetic, thank you for sharing it with us as we meditate on Jesus, and Who He is and All He is, He is the Greatest Gift.

  11. 11
    Elizabeth says:

    Melissa – That is a keeper, worthy of multiple reads and a printout. Thank you for sharing this jewel with us.

  12. 12
    Rebecca says:

    ‘not only this’ – love that!! love Him!!

  13. 13
    Mrs Nez says:

    ‘He draws us into His life and He moves us forward’…what would we do without this magnificent SAVIOR!
    Enjoyed the reading.

    Mrs. Nez

  14. 14
    Karen E says:

    Woohoo for Jesus!!! Absotively posilutely amazing. What a wonderful list of contrasts in Jesus. God is so fun. Thank you for sharing this, Melissa!

  15. 15
    Roxanne Worsham says:

    WOW!!! Love all of that!!!!
    He is everything!!!! Let the whole world sing!!!
    Emmanuel, God with us!! Yes, come, let us worship and adore Him!!

  16. 16
    amybhill says:

    i loved this – thanks so much melis! may i also share a quick something that has enraptured my heart this holiday season? my new favorite part of the story of Jesus’ birth is the simple fact that Jesus was wrapped in swaddling clothes and put to rest in a manger. i heard that my whole life, but i JUST learned that newborn lambs used for sacrifice in the temple were also wrapped in swaddling clothes and placed in managers to keep them from injuring themselves immediately after birth (so they would be spotless). and the shepherds who came to see Jesus- they were shepherds from the lineage of David – shepherds who cared for said sacrificial lambs. what foreshadowing! it gives me an entirely different perspective – though i always “knew” Jesus came to die, this gives the commercial feelings of christmas a welcome reality check. i am overcome with gratitude, awe, wonder… what a truly Awesome God we serve!

    wondering- have you come across this in your studies? do you have any resources to recommend that would speak on this in more detail? i am desperate to read up on this a little more.

    so much love to you and your family- MERRY CHRISTMAS!

    • 16.1
      Melissa says:

      Amy, thanks for sharing. I enjoyed reading your comment. I’ve never looked into this matter before so I don’t have any info for you. If I come across something in the future, I’ll let you know. Thanks for sharing your insights. All my best, Melissa

      • amybhill says:

        hey melissa- thought this might be the best way to catch up with you. so i just wanted to tell you – i’m doing the james study and i LOVE your going deeper section. several of the girls in our study have said how much they are enjoying it. so anyway, i just wanted to encourage you with that.

        as a side note, i also wanted to follow up with a few more things that i “learned” at our christmas church service about the link between jesus and the sacrificial lambs. i have the word “learned” in quotation marks because i have not been able to secure a reliable source for this information. i mean, i have found some things on the internet – but its the internet, ya know? so i feel like its sketchy. and the fact that you never learned this stuff in seminary has me a little hesitant to fully accept it. i should probably just talk to my pastor about it- but i feel bad questioning him on his sources. that is probably weird of me, but whatever. anyway, i know you love delving into the jewish roots of christianity, so i figured i’d at least pass on (in addition to the ones i already mentioned) these other “facts”:

        – bethlehem in its original language is translated “house of bread” and/or “house of meat.” (i have no idea whether or not that is true, but i’m sure you will). supposedly- that is because this was an area where on one side of bethlehem there was a lot of grain and on the other side of bethlehem there was a lot of grass – and sheep were raised on the side with all the grass (so the grass side was the “meat” side).

        – supposedly, these sheep were the sheep used for regular sacrifices and for sacrifices during jewish feasts.

        – supposedly, the sheep were brought to jerusalem (from bethlehem) on the 10th of nisan. and supposedly, jesus entered jerusalem riding a donkey on the 10th of nisan!!! the perfect and final passover lamb!!!

        this stuff is BLOWING my MIND – if it is true…

        if you have time (and no worries if you don’t) but do you have any thoughts?

        so much love to you, amy

    • 16.2
      Molly says:

      Amazing! I LOVE how when there is another puzzle piece, it always fits into HIS Glorious picture. Stunning!

    • 16.3
      kimberly mason says:

      love this amy! i’ve never heard that before! thanks for sharing! 🙂

  17. 17
    Jill says:

    Thank you Melissa for this posting! It is beautiful, I am going to print this out and read it over and over!

  18. 18
    Holly says:

    This reading is truly beautiful…I’ve never heard it before…thank you for sharing…& Merry Christmas:)

  19. 19
    shannon conner says:


  20. 20
    Melissa says:

    Stunning. Thank you for sharing these beautiful words. May we never forget how truly amazing He is. Merry Christmas!! 🙂

  21. 21

    Yes!! He is INCREDIBLE!!

  22. 22
    Molly (Siesta OC) says:

    This thrilled me out of my ever lovin mind!!!! I am printing it out for my Bible Study groups Ornament exchange party…this needs to be read at this time of year. You always bring such interesting finds.


  23. 23
    Lynn says:

    “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.” 2Corinthians 9:15

  24. 24
    Molly says:

    The one who changed the water into wine (John 2:1-11), the destroyer of the bitter taste (Heb. 2:9), the [one who is] sweetness and all desire (Song 5:16).

    My favorite!

  25. 25
    Christiane says:

    Thank you, Melissa for sharing this post with us.

    Here’s a gift of Advent music:

  26. 26
    Mary Snyder says:

    Melissa — thank you. It’s just what I needed to read today in the midst of this season. I needed the reminder of who my Savior is (as much as I can grasp). I need to hold on to His grace and chase after Him with a passion. It’s my prayer — to seek Jesus with a passion — and to not settle for anything short of Him.

  27. 27
    P says:

    He is truly more than I can fathom! Thanks, for posting Gregory’s writing. It causes me to adore my Savior even more.

  28. 28
    Celeste says:

    Thank you. I will be sharing this with my hubby and teenage son tonight. Melissa you are a joy. I am amazed at the way you discern His Holy rite and share it with us. Thank you truly for that today, teary eyed and thankful that I am an office of one today. Made my work day. May the Lord bless you and Colin and that adorable schweet puppy this Christmas.

  29. 29
    Steph says:

    I can not even grasp the magnitude of how humble our Lord and Savior is- We serve a mighty and awesome God!
    p.s. ‘He encourages us to be Courageous!!!’ Whoop! Whoop!

  30. 30
    Fran says:

    Oh Melissa…..this is absolutely beautiful and I’m fighting the tears! Yes…let us truly adore Him these next two weeks. This was what I needed today. I’m going to print this and keep tucked in my bible. I sure hope you had a wonderful day. Love ya sister!

  31. 31
    Rhonda says:

    This is so beautiful! Such a wonderful reminder of what this season is all about.

  32. 32
    Marie says:

    “And not only this…”

    “And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen.” – John 21:25

    Love it. Love Him.

  33. 33
    Andrea Porter says:

    Hard to type because I am weeping…. Thank you so much for sharing this with the Siestas. Come Jesus, come, come quickly. I am so humbled by what I read and also deeply thankful that Jesus is my one and only savior. Yes… Come let us adore Him, Christ our Lord.

  34. 34
    LeAnn says:

    I was listening to the podcast from the Village Church in Flower Mound, 12/4/11 message with Paul David Tripp. I was struck by the thought that God performed an intervention on mankind 2000 years ago with Christ incarnate, to save us. To Him be all glory and power forever! Then you remind us of the same thing. God is awesome.

  35. 35
    Sister Lynn says:

    Dear Melissa,

    I love your posts – they always seem to have a bit of wisdom that is ever ancient and ever new.

    I love love love the Patristic writings. This was a great selection.

    Advent blessings in abundance to you as we await our Emmanuel.

    love and prayers, S. Lynn

  36. 36


    I loved this post. like a refreshing drink of water. I was feeling rather like a grinch after the grind of busy parking lots, crowded stores and jarring Christmas music and cheap decorations. then I read this tonight and it’s so wonderful. you have enlarged my mind too. nazianzus? I guess you had to be there to appreciate it.

    my Christmas reading this year is “The Divine Romance” by Gene Edwards. I’m reading it with my teenage daughters to help them get their minds around “the big picture. thanks again for a thought provoking and wonderful post.


  37. 37
    Sandra Arvada says:

    How how he loves you and me, oh how he loves you and me.He is my beloved. Amazing God.:)

  38. 38
    traci says:

    Wow…truth spoken so powerfully.
    I’d love to hear him speak the words in person!

  39. 39
    Shelly says:

    Hi Melissa,

    I so love it when you jump on the blog and share the amazing material you’ve recently read or studied. This particular piece was beautiful and very appropriate to read as the miracle of the season is upon us. Our God is great and, although a mystery, still so accessible to each one of us who know Him as our Lord and Savior. Thank you for sharing with us. Have a Merry Christmas!


  40. 40
    Diane Bailey says:

    I love this. I have printed it out so that I can sit in my quiet spot and soak it in! Merry Christmas, Melissa!

  41. 41
    karen says:

    I knew it was Melissa when i read the first few sentences. Always love to read a deeper blog post. Thank you for this amazing view of Christ. ‘amazing’ is too pitiful a word to describe Him.
    Praying the Moore’s, present and past, have a blessed Christmas.

  42. 42
    Christy says:

    Love this. Thanks for sharing.

  43. 43
    Nancy, Georgia says:

    How beautiful this was to read, how reassuring. Thank you so much for sharing. Merry Christmas! Yes, O Come Let Us Adore Him!

  44. 44
    kristin says:

    Oh, this is beautiful. Thanks for sharing how Jesus is indeed God with us. O come, o come, Emmanuel. And I’ll be reposting this excerpt on my blog quote collection. Thanks for sharing!

  45. 45
    Bev Brandon says:

    Oh Melis,
    What *Wonder*
    What *Glory*
    What *Remnant*
    What *Story*
    From “light upon the sea”
    To “lifted upon a Tree.”
    Compelling words from the Living One.
    Reminds me of a quote you shared about:
    “Divine Intervention” meeting “Human Welcome.”
    Your words welcome me to Him!
    Been reading Bonhoeffer–Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.
    Bonhoeffer wrote on page 83:
    The success of the sermon
    is utterly dependent on the God
    Who breaks through and “grasps” us,
    or we cannot be “grasped.”
    You are a “grasped” young woman
    and you take us with you to the Divine One.
    Love you so! Bev

  46. 46
    Melissa H. says:

    Love this! Thanks Melissa!

  47. 47
    Cara says:

    Wow!!!!! I mean WOW!! Praise Him!! This will be printed and placed on my refrigerator and in my Bible!!! Thank you so much for sharing this!


  48. 48
    Janice says:

    My God, my God, Why HAVEN’T you forsaken me…?

  49. 49
    Hannah says:

    Melissa, How powerful and meaningful! Especially this time a year! What beautiful things to think on! Thanks so much and Merry Christmas!

  50. 50

    Powerful. I read this for my morning devotion… I’m awake!
    I loved when you said, “He draws us into His life and He moves us forward…” Yes He does.


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