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Christmas, The Beast in Us, and Becoming Truly Human Again

I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you.” – Psalm 73:22

These words, which the Psalmist prays in repentance to the Lord, are some I return to often in my own prayers of repentance. They capture well some of my actions and attitudes of my heart: beastly—like an animal.

And this is one reason Christmas is such good news.

People ask, “What’s the reason for the season?” And we know the answer: It’s about the Son of God becoming human, of course. But have you ever thought that Christmas is also about you becoming human once again?

We don’t have to look very far to find evidence of our broken humanity. It’s all around us, in all the hatred and jealousy and injustice and idolatry. But it’s also in us. Sin and selfishness turn us into something less than truly human beings.

C. S. Lewis says it like this:

“Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state of the other.”1

To be human, as God intended, is to bear his image and likeness (Gen 1:26). Humans were created to know God and worship him, and also to reflect God and display him in our attitudes and our actions. To be human, in other words, is to be like God.

But what happens when we turn from God to our own way? We become “beastly,” driven not by love for God and love for others, but by our own selfishness and sinful desires. Sin “dehumanizes” us—causing us to become less like God, less like true human beings.

When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden, they didn’t become more human, “Well, I’m only human, after all.” No, their true humanity became less than what it was intended to be. The image of God in them—and in all of us—became marred. Our actions and attitudes have become more animal-like, more beastly. We have become less fully human, less like God.

But the good news of Christmas is that the Son of God became human in order to restore our true humanity. In Jesus of Nazareth, we see a fully, truly human being. One who loves God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength. One who loves others as himself. A human whose greatest delight is in knowing and worshiping God. And whose whole life reflects the goodness and kindness and worth of God.

Lewis, reflecting on the incarnation, says, “The result was that you now had one man who really was what all men were intended to be.”2 And this, Lewis says, is the key to overcoming the “beast” in us:

“We have not got to try to climb up into spiritual life by our own efforts; it has already come down into the human race. If we will only lay ourselves open to the one Man in whom it was fully present, and who, in spite of being God, is also a real man, He will do it in us and for us. Remember what I said about “good infection.” One of our own race has this new life: if we get close to Him we shall catch it from Him.”3

That’s what Paul means when he says God has determined to “conform us to the image of his Son” (Rom 8:29). Those who have been joined to Jesus by faith are being made like Jesus, who is the perfect image of God. In his humanity, he represents all we were intended to be, and through his death in our place and his resurrection, he has opened the way for us to become as he is: fully, truly human once again.

In this life, we will continue to have moments when we have to confess with the Psalmist, “I was like a beast toward you.” But the next words on the Psalmist lips show God’s grace toward us in our beastliness: “Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand” (Ps 73:23).

That’s the message of Christmas. The Son of God became man, entering our beastly world, in order to come near to us, to redeem us, to take us by the hand, and to lead us into becoming truly human once more.

That’s a hope worth longing for and celebrating during this Advent season.

1 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 92
2 Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 179.
3 Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 181.

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