Imagine it: a radio telescope picks up a signal. It’s like no natural phenomenon we’ve ever encountered. It seems purposeful, meaningful. After years of study, a translation is produced. We have made first contact with extra-terrestrial intelligence!
Simply knowing that we are not alone would change the world. Our understanding of our place in the universe would be forever changed. Textbooks would be rewritten, countless theories confirmed or disproved. Society would alter as we redirect our resources into building spaceships to explore, and weapons to defend ourselves.
Then the first ship arrives, descending to Earth. All the presidents and rulers of the world come to meet it. Will this first meeting bring war or peace? Will we even be able to translate their thoughts into our languages, or will the aliens be so far different that they are beyond comprehension? What knowledge and wisdom will they be able to impart to us?
Whatever the outcome, the day that life from beyond our world steps down to meet us will define history.
First contact already happened.
A day like this has already happened. But our history-changing encounter wasn’t the meeting of different species. We haven’t been visited by a fellow-creature who just happens to have superior technology, but by someone in another category entirely – someone who defies all categories.
He is the infinite and personal creator and sustainer of the universe. He keeps the galaxy spinning and holds our atoms together. He is the one who knows everything that ever is, and was, and will be, from the explosion of the Big Bang to the dust-motes of our lives.
And God has reached down into the dust. Somehow he has contained his boundless infinite being into the dust, the flesh and the blood of a human body. Christ the saviour is born, a helpless baby who will grow into a man, and die a bloody death on a cross.
God in meat.
No alien flesh, no otherworldly DNA, but God Himself wrapped up in our own meat. Incarnation. In-carne-ation. Like chilli con carne, but instead of chilli with meat, God in meat. God became a lump of flesh. God in muscle and bone and skin. Every bit as human as you or me, hungry, sweating, smelling, stumbling, fearing, laughing, growing, learning. No shortcuts, no invisible God-force field to protect him. Full humanity. All our glory and weakness.
How can reality bear it? How can the Creator enter creation without utterly destroying it? How can he become human and yet remain God? How can He be God and still be truly a human?
On one level it would make more sense for the force of gravity to become a hamster. On another level, we remember that God made humanity in His image, in His likeness. So perhaps it makes a strange kind of sense for God to become one of us in order to restore His image in us. We can never fully understand, only wonder and worship.
Word in flesh.
If aliens appeared, would we even be able to map their language to ours? Human language struggles to capture reality in its net of symbols; no doubt alien words would be similarly slippery. But in Jesus symbol and substance are united; image and reality become one.
Jesus tenderly healing the poor. Jesus railing against the religious hypocrites. Jesus telling vivid, shocking stories of everyday life. Jesus weeping for his dead friend. Jesus dying to give his life for ours. This is God. This is what the infinite is like, the character of the one who made the universe. Here we see the fullness of the deity.
Myth become history.
History would be made by making contact with ET. But by stepping into space-time history, God becomes a fact, an event that defines history. It has been recorded and written down and witnessed to. We can investigate and test these things, weighing the evidence. Moral and spiritual truth are made flesh and bone.
Is it a spiritual truth that God came down in humility and grace as a human being? Yes. Is it a historical fact that can be verified objectively? Yes. Fact and value are reconciled. The incarnation satisfies our longing both for meaning and for truth. This is a story that satisfies our deepest longings, and a history that actually happened. To know and to believe are both possible, and both necessary.
The invasion from Heaven.
Any species capable of travelling from its own world to ours would be astonishingly more technologically advanced. Their arrival would cause fear and terror.
That night in Bethlehem, angels thronged the sky, as ominous as a spaceship casting its shadow over the White House. These were no cute cherubs, but the same beings that had destroyed Sodom, brought death to the firstborn of Egypt. No wonder the shepherds were scared when the army of heaven showed up.
But here is the shock: Fear not. God comes in peace. Goodwill to the world that has rejected Him. Heaven’s army is here to sing, not to conquer. The King comes to rescue us from our own selfish abuses of freedom and authority. He comes to deliver us from evil, suffering and death.
Jesus arrived on earth to claim his place as its rightful king. He demands our surrender, our repentance. Let all the CEOs and politicians of the earth acknowledge him. Let democracies and tyrants alike bow to him.
But this is not an invasion of earth by force. He is our liberation, for he made this world and to it holds the rightful claim. He came to win us not by power, but by giving up his life for us. The world is to be transformed by self-sacrifice, not revolution. Love is what will transform our lives, societies, politics. The kingdom of God is at hand.
So Christmas is not just a time for family, for traditions and presents. It marks the defining event of human history. Not first contact, not man on the moon. God on earth in flesh. This changes everything.