The Birth of Jesus: The Incarnation
A Christmas message from Rt. Rev. Sheila Douglas, Hon. President
Containing IMCGB’s Tribute to our late Queen Elizabeth II
and expression of encouragement to King Charles III.
The central message of Paul’s letter to the Philippians is about the Incarnation and our response to it.
The World Book Dictionary defines “Incarnation” as follows: “The union of divine nature and human nature in the person of Jesus Christ: the assumption of human form by the Son of God.”
Here’s how Philippians 2:5-11 (NIV) defines Incarnation:
“Being in very nature God (Christ Jesus) did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — — even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Jesus’ attitude was to give up everything that rightly was his in an act of obedience, in order to save us. That was the incarnation: God with us! This enlarges the meaning of “Emmanuel”, “God with us”, to more than his presence in our midst. It means he is among us to rescue us, redeem us, become our ransom and our Saviour: to bring us out of the kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of Light.
The incarnation lays an obligation on us. The shepherds told Joseph and Mary what the angels had said. They became evangelists and glorified and praised God because of what they had heard and seen. The magi searched and found the child, called him king, worshipped and gave him gifts full of meaning, and protected him by their actions. Mary and Joseph willingly took on the role of parents, which is seen to have been, from the beginning, costly in duty, sacrifice and, later, anguish – not what they had envisaged for their marriage.
Paul’s letter to the Philippians clearly sets out what our response should be. We are to be like-minded with Jesus: his giving up his glorious status for our sakes, his humility, his sacrifice. And this like-mindedness is powerfully illustrated in the examples of Epaphroditus and Paul.
Epaphroditus became ill and almost died, risking his life for the work of Christ. (Phil 2:25-29)
Paul gave up all he had previously held dear, counting it as rubbish. It was no small thing he gave up in order to “know Christ”. It was his very identity of which he was proud beyond words: “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the Church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.” (Phil 3:5-6 NIV)
Strangely enough, when, since the fall of the Bastille in 1789, atheism has slowly gained ground and attacking Christianity has become the norm, and a larger and larger proportion of the population know nothing of the significance of the amazing life, death and resurrection of Jesus and the invitation of our loving God to take part in His life, YET, in this spiritually bereft “Western” world , we all have witnessed a life dedicated to exactly what Paul asked when he wrote, “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any fellowship with His Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose ……your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus …” (Phil 2:1-2,5 NIV)
We all have witnessed the life of our late Queen Elizabeth II. At age 21 she promised, “My whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be dedicated to your service.” We all know that she kept that promise until the day she died, aged 96. What many do not know is that in doing so, she intentionally set her heart on following Christ’s example. Here are her own words on Christmas Day 2014: “For me, the life of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, whose birth we celebrate today, is an inspiration and an anchor in my life. A role-model of reconciliation and forgiveness, he stretched out His hands in love, acceptance and healing.” The author of the little book, Our Faithful Queen, said, “During her seventy years of keeping very public promises, the Queen has put duty before personal preference, showing her remarkable restraint and self-sacrifice.” In 2016, the Queen said, “Jesus Christ lived obscurely most of His life, and never travelled far. He was maligned and rejected by many, though he had done no wrong. And yet billions of people now follow His teaching and find in Him the guiding light for their lives. I am one of them.” Addressing the General Synod of the Church of England in 2010, she said, “At the heart of our faith stand, not a preoccupation with our own welfare and comfort, but the concepts of service as shown in the life and teaching of the One ‘who made himself nothing, taking the very form of a servant’.” Here she quoted from the very passage in Philippians 2:7, which we are considering. So it is with grateful hearts that we make this Tribute to our faithful Queen Elizabeth II. We thank God for her life of service and her witness to Jesus our Lord.
Now we welcome King Charles III. Your Majesty, the example of your Mother is a hard act to follow, but we know you well enough to be confident that you will do everything within your power to bring it about, that each person will be valued as precious in God’s sight and encouraged in righteousness, kindness and in excellence in their sphere of life and work. We humbly recommend that you do follow your Mother’s example in this above all: to follow Jesus Christ both in example and in Him as your source of inner indwelling, sustaining strength. May God uphold you. Long may you reign!
King Charles has not chosen to be King. He has inherited the role. He will not be judged on that, but on how wisely, selflessly, skillfully and in humility he carries out his duties. We welcome our new King. We are grateful for the many wonderful things he has done so far: for example for our young people and the environment. We look to the future with confidence and prayerfully put King Charles III and ourselves into the hands of Almighty God.
Lingering in my memory from my days as a theology student is something that Professor Alan Barr of the United Free Church of Scotland said by way of quotation. It was something like this: If you are ruled by an absolute monarch or an autocrat, much depends on the desires and choices of that individual – will he pursue power, wealth, care for his people, servant-hood? If you live in a democracy you get the rulers you deserve. It is a salutary thought. Before we tear of leaders to pieces, perhaps we should look at ourselves. Are we modeling the life-style we would like to see in our law-makers?
This Christmastime let’s read again the express request of Paul to his readers. Read it slowly, considering it phrase by phrase. When we have spent some time there, let’s pray that the incarnate Christ should live in us by His Spirit.
, “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any fellowship with His Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look, not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
“Who being in very nature God did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — — even death on a cross!” (Phil 2:1-8 NIV)
May Christ dwell in you richly!
Merry Christmas to all!
A Tribute by Bishop Sheila Douglas to the Rt. Rev. Onyekwelu Obika
Secretary General and Presiding Bishop of IMCGB from 2000 to 2022.
He has fought “the good fight of faith” (see 1 Tim 6:12) and now our Lord has called him home.
“It is with great sadness that I put pen to paper to pay tribute to an exemplary Leader in the Church of Christ. Of all the qualities I might assign to him, I choose courage as number one: Courage to stand firm in face of opposition, courage to speak out in difficult circumstances, courage to assess things with utter transparency, nothing hidden. Deep prayer-life sustained him.
Faithful to the point of continuous self sacrifice, gentle and consistent, most members will never know what they owe to this unassuming man, who found himself continually under attack from those who wished to hijack our agenda.
Bishop Onye, as our Secretary General, represented us at meetings of Church Leaders of all denominations and member bodies of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland. He organised the office, guided decision making, organized excellence in ministry conferences, kept our vital educational aspirations alive – envisioning their future, and most of all sowed into the spiritual lives and effective ministering of countless individual servants of God. In the past year, he has built a Church, opened a branch of his Ministry, Bible Study Network Christian Centre, in Enugu, Nigeria, and was able to report good news of success when God called him home. We thank BSNCC for lending him to the wider Pentecostal family of IMCGB.
To his wife, Rev. Emily, his sons and daughters, Gideon, Grace, Uchenna and Jonathan we offer heartfelt sympathy at the sudden loss of such a wonderful husband and father. May the Lord Jesus sustain you in this time of sorrow.
He has entered into the nearer presence of our Lord Jesus, and eternal joys.”
Preach The Word
As our new website opens up opportunities for good communications and working together, Bishop Collin Maloney, Director of Studies at the IMCGB College of Theology, highlights opportunities for Ministers of the Gospel.
I recently heard Dr John McArthur say that “the twenty-first-century church is the most Biblically illiterate church since the Reformation.” As harsh as that statement may sound, there appears to be quite a bit of truth in it. The IMCGB College of Theology exists for the purpose of equipping and preparing ministers of the Gospel to have a better grasp of the Bible as well as familiarising them with some of the technical aspects of Biblical Theology.
Today’s Christian leader can ill afford to wallow in ignorance. We live in an age where information is readily available literally at our fingertips. Today’s preachers and teachers in our churches must ensure that they are fully equipped to “rightly divide” the Word of God, as well as to be able to answer the myriad of questions that trouble many of our young people who are leaving the church in droves as they move on to institutes of higher learning, and are bombarded with secular humanism and other philosophies that are in direct opposition to a Biblical world view. Our students are challenged to cultivate the habit of reading and researching and will be pointed in the direction of engaging their minds with reputable Christian authors who will help to expand their thinking in that field of study that was the mother of all sciences.
The International Ministerial Council of Great Britain (IMCGB) was founded in 1968. It became an Associate Member of the British Council of Churches (BCC) in 1979. BCC has now given way to Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI) and Churches Together in England (CTE).
IMCGB was founded to overcome racism in Church life; to authenticate the Leadership of black and minority ethnic clergy, including women; to enable ethnic-minority Churches to speak with one voice on social issues to obtain justice; to win freedom of movement for Church workers to spread the Gospel; to establish working and sharing relationships between black, minority-ethnic and other independent Churches, with the longer established indigenous Churches and with other faith groups and secular and government bodies.
IMCGB was founded by the late Archbishop David Douglas who came to England from Jamaica in 1958. Like many others, he experienced the exclusion and non-acceptance of racist attitudes. He understood the pain and damage of racism because he was a victim of it. His life was spent creating ways of overcoming racism, and the suffering it causes, in both Church and society. “We want Britain to be a peaceful and happy society,” he wrote, “and this is possible only if there is justice and equal opportunity for all.” He was a man of extreme determination, self-control and courage, and all of those qualities were inspired by the necessity to be obedient to the will of God, to complete the work God gave him to do.
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